Wednesday 29 April 2015

Germany, Greece and Enlightened Elites. (i)

The treatment Germany received from the Allies after World War II has been the subject of much interest recently. Roughly speaking, the point of those discussions is that Germany was treated with generosity by their far-sighted and magnanimous conquerors, particularly the U.S. and U.K.

In this view, the benevolent handling of Germany by the Allies allowed for the German Wirtschaftswunder. This would support both Keynesian strictly economic views, and Keynes’ beliefs in the positive role of enlightened elites as arbiters’ of human destiny.

In reality, history shows that story -- understandably popular in the Anglo-Saxon world, particularly the English Keynesian side of it -- to be inaccurate. Elites’ enlightenment counted for little.


In many respects Henry Morgenthau, Jr. (1891-1967) seemed an American version of the Keynesian enlightened bourgeois/intelligentsia: an architect by training, Morgenthau came from an influential patrician family of New York real estate moguls, linked to the Democratic Party. His father had been ambassador to Turkey, during the Wilson Administration.

As Secretary of the Treasury in the Roosevelt Administration since 1934, Morgenthau -- although himself sceptical of Keynesian ideas -- had played a pivotal role in shaping the New Deal, and exerted considerable, if informal and contested, authority in the wartime direction of economic effort of the U.S.

With their Soviet “frenemies” bearing the brunt of the cost, human and material, and American capital (in Thomas Piketty’s definition) emerging largely unscathed after 40 years turmoil, by 1944 those efforts started to bear fruit: the tide of history turned decidedly against the Axis. It was time for a resurgent U.S. to decide the world’s future and particularly of what was left of the defeated Nazi Germany.

source: Piketty, Thomas. "Capital in the 21st Century", chapter 4.

source: Piketty, Thomas. "Capital in the 21st Century", chapter 3.

During this time, following Steven (2005), a new lobby formed in the U.S. advocating a “harsh peace” with Germany. After an uncertain start with the wider public, the ostensibly bipartisan, but largely dominated by progressive writers, Society for the Prevention of World War III made inroads within the Administration, including the Justice Department (already concerned with German cartels, like I.G. Farben), the Office of the Attorney General; New-Dealers in Congress, like senator Harley M. Kilgore (D-WV), Army, the Department of Treasury, the then Office of War Information and, more importantly, within the Oval Office.

With that agenda in mind, during the September 1944 Second Quebec Conference, the American delegation released -- in what proved a serious blunder -- the Morgenthau Plan. Professedly to eliminate future German potential to wage war against her neighbours and to pay for war reparations, the Plan called for the forceful de-industrialization of Germany, and its dismemberment into pre-Bismarckian independent small states, mostly agrarian.

Quoted by Moggridge (1995), Morgenthau describes PM Churchill’s initial reaction to a previous private presentation:
"After I finished my piece he turned on the full blood of his rhetoric, sarcasm and violence. He looked on the Treasury plan, he said, as he would on chaining himself to a dead German. 
"He was slumped in his chair, his language biting, his flow incessant, his manner merciless. I have never had such a verbal lashing in my life."
For all that outburst, however, Churchill acquiesced to the plan, as it was supported by Morgenthau’s boss. After all, already in the January 1943 Casablanca Conference Churchill had been forced to accept publicly embarrassing impositions from Roosevelt, of whom Churchill would meekly admit: “I was his [i.e. Roosevelt’s] ardent lieutenant".

Worse was in store for Morgenthau. To his chagrin, the leaked proposal was badly received by most of the press, public opinion, and sectional interests inside the Administration (particularly the Department of War and the State Department, headed by more conservative, pro-business, politicians).

The Nazi propaganda machine, too, was quick to take full advantage of it. Lt. Colonel John Boettiger, Roosevelt's son-in-law, has been quoted to the effect that the propaganda afforded to the Nazis was "worth thirty divisions to the Germans."

Faced with an overwhelmingly adverse reaction, the proposal was swiftly removed from public discussion. In October 1944, Roosevelt personally denied there ever was any such plan, in spite of which, by May 1945 Harry Truman (whom succeeded Roosevelt after the latter’s death in April) accepted the Joint Chiefs of Staff directive 1067.

Morgenthau, whom Truman would sack in July 1945, has been quoted as saying that he hoped "someone doesn't recognize it [i.e. JCS 1067] as the Morgenthau Plan."


After two years occupation, beginning the Cold War, Truman dispatched former U.S. president Herbert C. Hoover to Germany and Austria in a fact-finding mission. Hoover:
“There is the illusion that the new Germany left after the annexations can be reduced to a 'pastoral state'. It cannot be done unless we exterminate or move 25,000,000 people out of it.” (here)
Allen W. Dulles (head of O.S.S. in Switzerland):
"The Marshall Plan … is not a philanthropic enterprise … It is based on our views of the requirements of American security … This is the only peaceful avenue now open to us which may answer the communist challenge to our way of life and our national security." (here)
Perhaps clearer and more to the point were the words of general Lucius D. Clay, head of the Office of Military Government, United States:
"There is no choice between being a communist on 1,500 calories a day and a believer in democracy on a thousand". (here)
(to be continued)

Stuttering George and Amnesia. Feb. 2, 2011.

Casey, S. (2005). The Campaign to Sell a Harsh Peace for Germany to the American Public, 1944-1948. History, 90(297), pp.62-92.
Moggridge, D. (1995). Maynard Keynes. London: Routledge. p. 772.

Monday 27 April 2015

Lord Keynes: Immaculate Ethnic Purity … Ah!

Villagers fleeing the village of Kibati during the 2008 Nord-Kivu conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. [A]

Deepak Lal (here and here) approvingly writes in “In Defense of Empires”:
“Skidelsky reports on one of Keynes’s fancies:
‘A view of the post-war world which I find sympathetic and attractive and fruitful of good consequences is that we should encourage small political and cultural units, combined into larger, and more or less closely knit, economic units. It would be a fine thing to have thirty or forty capital cities in Europe, each the center of a self-governing country entirely free from national minorities (who would be dealt with by migrations where necessary) and the seat of government and parliament and university center, each with their own pride and glory and their own characteristics and excellent gifts. But it would be ruinous to have thirty or forty entirely independent economic and currency unions.’
“But as Skidelsky notes, ‘this pleasing picture of a re-medievalised Europe did not survive in later drafts.’ This homogenized solution, which as Keynes recognized could involve ‘ethnic cleansing,’ has clearly been eschewed by the West.”

Suggested advert for either a detergent or a neo-con world-shaping strategy marketing campaign:


Sometimes there's just no way around it: one has to appeal to humour, even if dark and bloody.

But that's no laughing matter. To have Lord Keynes -- the Messiah of capitalism -- deciding, between cups of tea, the lives of millions is no laughing matter, either.

So, for those pimple-faced teenage reincarnations of the faux Prophet (MegaMaynard? KeynesJr? LordKv.2.0?) and admirers of Wikipedia and their "non-famous" editors, Population Transfer gives a general overview of these "encouraged", mass "ethnic migrations". The article is not complete (as usual for Wikipedia). But here are related entries: Flight and Expulsion of Germans (1944–50), Yugoslav Wars, Ethnic Cleansing in Africa. Some of these episodes, by their sheer madness, sound as if taken from a work of fiction, but since this is no fiction, they end up in untold horror.

The name for that is Ethnic Cleansing. Is not just that is has "been eschewed by the West". It's a crime defined by the Rome Statute of the Criminal Court. Criminals used to be hanged by Western courts for that: Nuremberg Trials, Tokyo Trials.

Image Credits:
[A] Villagers fleeing the village of Kibati during the 2008 Nord-Kivu conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Author: Julien Harneis (07-11-2008). File licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license. My usage of the file does not suggest its author endorses me or the use I make of the file. Wikipedia

Sunday 26 April 2015

Jonathan Chait on Obstinate Ignorance.

Pondering about the well-known phenomenon of American conservatives' stubborn refusal to consider contrary arguments, Jonathan Chait, a leading Republican-watcher for the liberal media, wrote (February 5, 2005) for New Republic:
"What appears to be conservative economic reasoning is actually a kind of backward reasoning. It begins with the conclusion and marches back through the premises." (here)
Chait makes some good points; others, well, not so much.

But believe me when I say this, Jonathan: I can relate to the quote above.

Friday 24 April 2015

Kalecki on Obstinate Ignorance.


Referring to the possibility of achieving full employment through government intervention, Michał Kalecki writes:
“This suggests that there is a political background in the opposition to the full employment doctrine, even though the arguments advanced are economic. That is not to say that people who advance them do not believe in their economics, poor though this is. But obstinate ignorance is usually a manifestation of underlying political motives.” (here)
Replace “full employment doctrine” with “Marxism” and “arguments advanced are economic” with “arguments advanced are economic and philosophical (sic)” and you get this example of obstinate ignorance (note the date).

And -- this is the detail -- it wasn't because nobody tried to explain, patiently, in detail, with civility, his mistakes, over and over and over again. That doesn't work.

There's something actually instructive in this situation, however. This seems to be a frequent pattern in anti-Marxist "thought": these guys first get their conclusion ("I hate Marxism, aaargh!") and it's only then that they search for an argument to justify the conclusion.


But enough of being serious. To close in an appropriate note, as today is Saturday, an old favorite:

This march is named "Entrance of the Gladiators" and was composed by Julius Fucík (believe it or not: between the C and the K there is an I!!!).

Image Credits:
[A] "Axidunce cartoon - Damaged tools spell danger”. 1941 - 1945. National Archives and Records Administration, College Park. File in the public domain. Wikipedia.

Sunday 19 April 2015

So, What is Maths?

"Philosophy is really very useful for expressing commonplace ideas in fancy ways." (Robert Paul Wolff, here)

Meet young Joe. Joe is a mathematician, although he doesn’t know it.

Joe is a poor Arts student, doing sundry stuff for money. He woke up and counted how much money he had left: $30. Luckily, today he has some hours of casual cleaning scheduled at the pub. He has an exam, too (at 10:30), so he's in a hurry.

Joe started at the pub at 6:00. He did his thing, finishing by 10:00.

The publican paid him, but Joe was in such a hurry he just took the money, shoved it in his pocket, and rode his bike to uni.

Finished his exam, Joe decided to eat something. That’s when he counted his money: now, he has $70.

“What was my hourly pay rate?” Joe wondered. He reasons, as you would, like this:

  1. Earlier, I had $30.
  2. I have $70, now.
  3. I’ve spent nothing, yet.
  4. So, the boss paid me $40 (=$70 - $30).
  5. I worked 4 hours, from 6:00 to 10:00.
  6. Dividing $40 by 4 hours yields $10 per hour.
  7. That’s my hourly wage.
“Meh,” readers may think. “That’s garden-variety reasoning, and basic arithmetic, not Real Maths.”

Hold that thought for a moment. This is what Joe did:

 ($70 - $30)/4 = $10

Now, brace yourselves for the revelation: Joe actually solved the linear equation below, for HourlyWage.

TotalMoney = InitialMoney + HourlyWage * Hours

The steps taken to solve this equation (which one learns as rules in school, say "if it multiplies on the right hand side, it divides on the left"), in the order adopted, parallel the steps Joe took to reason his solution:

HourlyWage * Hours = TotalMoney – InitialMoney = $70 - $30 = $40.

HourlyWage = (TotalMoney – InitialMoney)/Hours = ($70 - $30)/4 = $10.

Joe did that in his mind, without pen or paper (like you did). But it’s not the use of pen and paper that makes it "Real Maths": maths is a form of reasoning. The school "rules" are not arbitrary, they have a reason. Knowingly or not, Joe reasoned mathematically, and it didn’t hurt him a bit.

In simple cases like this (and simplicity, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder), anyone can reason correctly “in their minds”; in more complex cases, it’ll be wiser to appeal to pen and paper, because the risk of making mistakes is far greater. This does not alter the fact: maths is a reasoning process, no more, no less.


Is this to say that maths in economics is a guarantee of “scientificity”, or at least that it’s always appropriate or innocent? Obviously, not. On top, there’s no absolute rule to judge.

What one can conclude is that the usage of maths in economics is not inherently wrong, for some obscure reason that anti-maths people can’t explain in simple terms, without a generous side of “metaphysics”, “epistemology”, “ontology”, “teleology”.

Know this: maths and technical language sometimes are necessary; but the unnecessary use of maths (or technical, specialist words) may indicate a charlatan trying to bullshit you.

Saturday 18 April 2015

Rammstein: Spring!

It's springime, for my northern hemisphere friends for capitalism. It always is.

For Rammstein (and here, a surprisingly literate industrial rock band; actually, an east German Neue Deutsche Härte band, much better in studio albums than in their live recordings), it must also "spring". From 2005 Rammstein's album "Rosenrot":

But who must "spring"?

Kapitalismus, springen und nehmen Sie mit Ihnen die Eliten, bitte.

Tuesday 14 April 2015

Nietzsche on Women.

"238. (…) On the other hand, a man who has depth of spirit as well as of desires, and has also the depth of benevolence which is capable of severity and harshness, and easily confounded with them, can only think of woman as ORIENTALS do: he must conceive of her as a possession, as confinable property, as a being predestined for service and accomplishing her mission therein. (…)
"239. The weaker sex has in no previous age been treated with so much respect by men as at present--this belongs to the tendency and fundamental taste of democracy, in the same way as disrespectfulness to old age--what wonder is it that abuse should be immediately made of this respect? They want more, they learn to make claims, the tribute of respect is at last felt to be well-nigh galling; rivalry for rights, indeed actual strife itself, would be preferred: in a word, woman is losing modesty. And let us immediately add that she is also losing taste. She is unlearning to FEAR man: but the woman who 'unlearns to fear' sacrifices her most womanly instincts." (Nietzsche, "Beyond Good and Evil").

Although Nietzsche was infatuated with several women, and proposed to some, he never got married.


Somehow, I'm reminded of this scene from Ron Howard's 2001 film "A Beautiful Mind", starring Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Paul Bettany, Ed Harris, and Christopher Plummer.

17-04-2015: Nietzsche -- unlike Schiller, his hero -- wasn't much of a "farfallone amoroso", it seems. :-)

Saturday 11 April 2015

The Two Faces of Rosie the Riveter.

It’s funny how the elites’ perceptions of the workers change over time. When they need the workers, this is how they see us:


When they don’t need the workers, this is what the elites say about us:
“How can I adopt a creed which, preferring the mud to the fish, exalts the boorish proletariat above the bourgeois and the intelligentsia who, with whatever faults, are the quality in life and surely carry the seeds of all human advancement?”
Maybe it's time for the workers to understand, as David Ruccio and Robert Paul Wolff say, that it is us who don't need the elites at all.

As Rosie said: "We can do it".

Image Credit:
[A] " ‘We Can Do It!’ poster for Westinghouse, closely associated with Rosie the Riveter, although not a depiction of the cultural icon itself. Pictured Geraldine Doyle (1924-2010), at age 17.” Author: “J. Howard Miller, artist employed by Westinghouse, poster used by the War Production Co-ordinating Committee”. This work is in the public domain. Source: Wikipedia.

Sunday 5 April 2015

The Pope and Nietzsche: An Easter Dialogue.

With cameo appearances by John Maynard Keynes, Rush Limbaugh, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, and yours truly.

Here’s Pope Francis explaining why his social concerns (inequality, poverty, lack of solidarity, hunger in the world, the suffering of children) do not make of him a Marxist:
(With Spanish accent, in humbly conciliatory tone) “There is nothing in the Exhortation [‘Evangelii Gaudium’] that cannot be found in the social Doctrine of the Church. (…) I was not, I repeat, speaking from a technical point of view but according to the Church’s social doctrine. This does not mean being a Marxist.” (link)
Here’s Friedrich Nietzsche, prophet of those who "are the quality in life and surely carry the seeds of all human advancement", explaining why he’s unmoved by the Pope’s words:
(German accent, shouting rabidly) “Whom do I hate most heartily among the rabbles of today? The rabble of Socialists, the apostles to the Chandala, who undermine the workingman’s instincts, his pleasure, his feeling of contentment with his petty existence -- who make him envious and teach him revenge … Wrong never lies in unequal rights; it lies in the assertion of 'equal' rights … What is bad? But I have already answered: all that proceeds from weakness, from envy, from revenge. The anarchist and the Christian have the same ancestry.” (“The Antichrist”, page 58)
Here’s John Maynard Keynes:
(English aristocratic accent, smirking contemptuously) “In one respect Communism but follows other famous religions. It exalts the common man and makes him everything. ()
“We hate Communism so much, regarded as a religion, that we exaggerate its economic inefficiency; and we are so much impressed by its economic inefficiency that we underestimate it as a religion.” (“A Short View of Russia”, link)
Rush Limbaugh:
(In barely coherent Yank English) “But, regardless, what this is -- somebody has either written this for him or gotten to him. This is just pure Marxism coming out of the mouth of the Pope.” (link)
Yours truly, in second-hand Aussie accent: Holy Father, let's try and see the bright side of this. At least Limbaugh doesn't hate you.


Given the example of  Óscar Romero (among a great many others) and in spite of the above, readers may, nevertheless, think it prudent for Pope Francis to make it clear his distance with Marxism. The opposition to Marxism, they could add, is due to its association with the Soviet Union.

Perhaps Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels would have understood the concern. But, they would have been skeptical about that solution. Marx and Engels writing in the winter of 1847-1848 (70 years before the Russian Revolution):
"Where is the party in opposition that has not been decried as communistic by its opponents in power? Where is the opposition that has not hurled back the branding reproach of communism, against the more advanced opposition parties, as well as against its reactionary adversaries?" ("The Communist Manifesto", Preface)

There's little point in dialogue when the other side is deaf to one's voice (this goes to you too, Robert).

Perhaps you should try the advice of David Ruccio and Robert Paul Wolff: first you need to decide on which side you are on and let the chips fall where they may. It won't stop the abuse, but at least you could sleep soundly at night.

27/05/2015. Predictably, a young and psychopathic ignoramus would eventually parrot the same crap Keynes and Nietzsche penned before him, as proof of his (it's a male, trust me on that) erudition:
"Marxism and Catholicism. My first thoughts are we are seeing two denominations of the same failed religion, with both reflecting blind faith over rationality and reason. History hasn’t been kind to either over the last century or two has it?" (26 May 2015 at 2:57 pm, check the comments thread)
See also here.

Thursday 2 April 2015

A Short View of "A Short View". (and iv)

(From part iii)

Writing in a liberal democracy, presumably for the bourgeois reader, Keynes expressed with relative “political correctness” what others in different circumstances were at liberty to express with much blunter honesty:
Slavery is of the essence of culture, a truth of course, which leaves no doubt as to the absolute value of existence. This truth is the vulture that gnaws at the liver of the Promethean promoter of culture. The misery of toiling men must still increase in order to make the production of the world of art possible to a small number of Olympian men. Here is to be found the source of that secret wrath nourished by Communists and Socialists of all times, and also by their feebler descendants, the white race of the 'Liberals', not only against the arts, but also against classical antiquity.” (Nietzsche, "The Greek State")
It’s not known whether Keynes, Clive Bell (or any of the Bloomsberries) ever read Nietzsche, but there is a clear parallel between their views (in Skidelsky’s account) and Nietzsche’s, slightly blunter ones.

Indeed, a couple of years ago, Corey Robin (associate professor of Political Science at Brooklyn College), published "Nietzsche's Marginal Children: On Friedrich Hayek" (here). Using the notion of "elective affinity" (roughly, my own "shared worldviews") Robin explains how many of Nietzsche's elitist and anti-democratic ideas, through Hayek and the Austrian school, shaped our economic reality:
"[N]o one understood better than Nietzsche the social and cultural forces that would shape the Austrians: the demise of an ancient ruling class; the raising of the labor question by trade unions and socialist parties; the inability of an ascendant bourgeoisie to crush or contain democracy in the streets; the need for a new ruling class in an age of mass politics."
Focusing on Hayek and the marginalist/subjectivist Jevons, Walras and Menger, Robin did not mention Keynes. He should have (and this is a friendly critique to his otherwise excellent essay):
"From a distance it is easy to see how many presuppositions they [Keynes and Hayek] shared. (…) Both emphasised the importance of subjectivism in economic thinking. (…) Both were inegalitarians, believing in the beneficial spillovers from pockets of wealth. Neither was an ardent democrat." (Robert Skidelsky, "Hayek versus Keynes: The Road to Reconciliation")
Coming from a similar millieu, Keynes and the Austrians had to share worldviews: they and their peers carry the world on their shoulder. Beware the day they decided to shrug. The same reasoning Robin masterfully displays in relation to the Austrians, applies to Keynes: he belongs with them.

Atlas. [A]

Just like Keynes, or the Austrians could not claim originality in their views, as Nietzsche held similar ideas before them, neither could Nietzsche himself make that claim.

Whether he knew it or not, one can see the shade of an older author on Nietzsche's pompous ramblings:
"It would be well for those interested to reflect whether there now exists, or ever has existed, a wealthy and civilized community in which one portion did not live on the labor of another; and whether the form in which slavery exists in the South is not but one modification of this universal condition … Let those who are interested remember that labor is the only source of wealth, and how small a portion of it, in all old and civilized countries, even the best governed, is left to those by whose labor wealth is created." (John C. Calhoun, 1836 and here)
There is a terrible lucidity in Calhoun, a kind of dark nobility in refusing to hide behind hypocritical faux humanism or undergraduate philosophising. Sometimes, it seems, there is more honour and dignity in the exploiters than in their lackeys and attack poodles.

It's not the exploiters, and least of all Keynes, the Austrians and their race of arrogant parasites to the parasites. who are "are the quality in life and surely carry the seeds of all human advancement": it's the humble workers who carry them in their backs.

Survival of the fattest. [B]
Perhaps Calhoun's contempt for liberals (shared by Nietzsche) isn’t so hard to understand, after all.


Just one question is left unanswered. Why has “A Short View of Russia” remained largely forgotten -- as if it were a shameful family secret -- by contemporary liberal economists?

Given Keynes' intense interest for religion, it seems appropriate to answer that question thus:
22 And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without.
23 And Shem and Japheth took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were backward, and they saw not their father's nakedness(Genesis, 22-23, KJV).

Image Credits:
[A] Atlas at the Rockefeller Center. This work is in the public domain. Wikipedia.
[B] "Survival of the Fattest", by Jens Galschiøt, and Lars Calmar. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. My usage of the file does not suggest their author endorses me or my use of it. Source: Wikipedia.