Government

On The Guns of August

I recently finished reading The Guns of August, the Pulitzer Prize-Winning Classic about the Outbreak of World War I, by Barbara W. Tuchman.

Below are key excerpts from the book that I found particularly insightful:

Wilson, facing this group of “ignorant men,” as he called them, and accompanied by his fellow officer and future chief, Sir John French, “who knows nothing at all about the subject,” pinned up his great map of Belgium on the wall and lectured for two hours. He swept away many illusions when he explained how Germany, counting on Russia’s slow mobilization, would send the bulk of her forces against the French, achieving superiority of numbers over them. He correctly predicated the German plan of attack upon a right-wing envelopment but, schooled in the French theories, estimated the force that would come down west of the Meuse at no more than four divisions. He stated that, if all six British divisions were sent immediately upon the outbreak of war to the extreme left of the French line, the chances of stopping the Germans would be favorable.

Coming from Haldane this conclusion had a profound effect upon Liberal thinking and planning. The first result was a naval pact with France by which the British undertook at threat of war to safeguard the Channel and French coasts from enemy attack, leaving the French fleet free to concentrate in the Mediterranean. As this disposed the French fleet where it would not otherwise be, except by virtue of the agreement, it left a distinct obligation upon Britain…This curious document managed to satisfy everybody: the French because the whole British Cabinet Government had now officially acknowledged the existence of the joint plans, the antiwar group because it said England was not “committed,” and Grey because he had evolved a England was not “committed,” and Grey because he had evolved a formula that both saved the plans and quieted their opponents. To have substituted a definite alliance with France, as he was urged in some quarters, would “break up the Cabinet,” he said.

War pressed against every frontier. Suddenly dismayed, governments Struggled and twisted to fend it off. It was no use. Agents at frontiers were reporting every cavalry patrol as a deployment to beat the mobilization gun. General staffs, goaded by their relentless timetables, were pounding the table for the signal to move lest their opponents gain an hour’s head start. Appalled upon the brink, the chiefs of state who would be ultimately responsible for their country’s fate attempted to back away but the pull of military schedules dragged them forward.

How far reduced, how distant the end, no one yet knew. No one could realize that for numbers engaged and for rate and number of losses suffered over a comparable period of combat, the greatest battle of the war had already been fought. No one could yet foresee its consequences: how the ultimate occupation of all Belgium and northern France would put the Germans in possession of the industrial power of both countries, of the manufactures of Liege, the coal of the Borinage, the iron ore of Lorraine, the factories of Lille, the rivers and railroads and agriculture, and how this occupation, feeding German ambition and fastening upon France the fixed resolve to fight to the last drop of recovery and reparation, would block all later attempts at compromise peace or “peace without victory” and would prolong the war for four more years.

At the time of the disaster General Marquis de Laguiche, the French military attache came to express his condolences to the Commander • in Chief. ‘We are happy to have made such sacrifices for our Allies,” the Grand Duke replied gallantly. Equanimity in the face of catastrophe was his code, and Russians, in the knowledge of inexhaustible supplies of manpower, are accustomed to accepting gigantic fatalities with comparative calm. The Russian steam roller in which the Western Allies placed such hopes, which after their debacle on the Western Front was awaited even more anxiously, had fallen apart on the road as if it had been put together with pins. In its premature start and early demise it had been. Just as the Grand Duke said, a sacrifice for an ally. Whatever it cost the Russians, the sacrifice accomplished what the French wanted: withdrawal of German strength from the Western Front. The two corps that came too late for Tannenberg were to be absent from the Mame.

But Francois faced battle, whereas Kluck, thinking he faced only pursuit and mopping up, ignored the precaution. He believed the French incapable, after ten days of retreat, of the morale and energy required to turn around at the sound of the bugle and fight again. Nor was he worried about his flank. “The General fears nothing from the direction of Paris,” recorded an officer on September 4. “After we have destroyed the remains of the Franco-British Army he will return to Paris and give the IVth Reserve the honor of leading the entry into the French capital.”

In conclusion:

After the Marne the war grew and spread until it drew in the nations of both hemispheres and entangled them in a pattern of world conflict no peace treaty could dissolve. The Battle of the Mame was one of the decisive battles of the world not because it determined that Germany would ultimately lose or the Allies ultimately win the war but because it determined that the war would go on. There was no looking back, Joffre told the soldiers on the eve. Afterward there was no turning back. The nations were caught in a trap, a trap made during the first thirty days out of battles that failed to be decisive, a trap from which there was, and has been, no exit.

A recommended read in the areas of history and military conflicts.

On John Adams

I recently finished reading John Adams by David McCullough.

Below are key excerpts from this book that I found to be particularly insightful:

In truth, he was extremely proud of his descent from “a line of virtuous, independent New England farmers.” That virtue and independence were among the highest of mortal attainments, John Adams never doubted. The New England farmer was his own man who owned his own land, a freeholder, and thus the equal of anyone.

And liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people who have a right from the frame of their nature to knowledge, as their great Creator who does nothing in vain, has given them understandings and a desire to know. But besides this they have a right, an indisputable, unalienable, indefeasible divine right to the most dreaded and envied kind of knowledge, I mean of the characters and conduct of their rulers.

If, by supporting the rights of mankind, and of invincible truth, I shall contribute to save from the agonies of death one unfortunate victim of tyranny, or of ignorance, equally fatal, his blessings and years of transport will be sufficient consolation to me for the contempt of all mankind.

The preservation of liberty depends upon the intellectual and moral character of the people. As long as knowledge and virtue are diffused generally among the body of a nation, it is impossible they should be enslaved.

Few Americans ever achieved so much of such value and consequence to their country in so little time. Above all, with his sense of urgency anc unrelenting drive, Adams made the Declaration of Independence happen when it did. Had it come later, the course of events could have gone very differently.

Years later, in a letter to Thomas Jefferson, Adams would describe the voyage on the Boston as symbolic of his whole life. The raging seas he has passed through, he seemed to be saying, were like the times they lived in, and he was at the mercy of the times no less than the seas. Possibly he saw, too, in the presence of John Quincy, how directly his determination to dare such seas affected his family and how much, with his devotion to the cause of America, he had put at risk beyond his own life. Besides, as he may also have seen, the voyage had demonstrated how better suited he was for action than for smooth sailing with little to do.

To Thomas Jefferson, Adams would one day write, “My friend, you and 1 have lived in serious times.” And of all the serious events of the exceedingly eventful eighteenth century, none compared to the arrival upon the world stage of the new, independent United States of America. Adams’s part in Holland and at Paris had been profound. As time would tell, the treaty that he, Franklin, and Jay had made was as advantageous to their country as any in history. It would be said they had won the greatest victory in the annals of American diplomacy.

The role of the executive Adams was emphatic. If there is one central truth to be collected from the history of all ages, it is this: that the people’s rights and liberties, and the democratical mixture in a constitution, can never be preserved without a Strong executive, or, in other words, without separating the executive from the legislative power. If the executive power, or any considerable part of it, is left in the hands of an aristocratical or democratical assembly, it will corrupt the legislature as necessarily as rust corrupts iron, or as arsenic poisons the human body; and when the legislature is corrupted, the people are undone.

The only way to keep us from setting up for ourselves is to disunite us,” young schoolmaster Adams had written in his percipient letter to Nathan Webb, and to Adams now, as to others, dissolution remained the greatest single threat to the American experiment. “The fate of this government,” he would write from New York to his former law clerk, William Tudor, “depends absolutely upon raising it above the state governments.’ The first line of the Constitution made the point, “We the people, in order to form a more perfect union.’

‘o Adams the outcome was proof of how potent party spirit and party organization had become, and the most prominent was Burr’s campaign in New York. Washington, in his Farewell Address, had warned against disunion, permanent alliances with other nations, and “the baneful effects of the spirit of party.” Adams could rightly claim to have held to the ideals of union and neutrality, but his unrelenting independence—his desire to be a President above party—had cost him dearly.

In turbulent, dangerous times he had held to a remarkably steady course. He had shown that a strong defense and a desire for peace were not mutually exclusive, but compatible and greatly in the national interest.

In fundamental ways each proved consistently true to his nature they were in what they wrote as they had been through life. Jefferson was far more guarded and circumspect, better organized, dispassionate, more mannered, and refused ever to argue. Adams was warm, loquacious. more personal and opinionated, often humorous and willing to poke fun at himself. When Jefferson wrote of various self-appointed seers and mystics who had taken up his time as president, Adams claimed to have lad no problem with such people. “They all assumed the character of ambassadors extraordinary from the Almighty, but as I required miracles in proof of their credentials, and they did not perform any, I never gave public audience to any of them.”

I do not believe that Mr. Jefferson ever hated me. On the contrary, I believe he always liked me: but he detested Hamilton and my whole administration. Then he wished to be President of the United States, and I stood in his way. So he did everything that he could to pull me down. But if I should quarrel with him for that, I might quarrel with every man I have had anything to do with in life. This is human nature…. I forgive all my enemies and hope they may find mercy in Heaven. Mr. Jefferson and I have grown old and retired from public life. So we are upon our ancient terms of goodwill.

On a concluding note:

That John Adams and Thomas Jefferson had died on the same day. and that it was, of all days, the Fourth of July, could not be seen as a mere coincidence: it was a “visible and palpable” manifestation of “Divine favor,” wrote John Quincy in his diary that night, expressing what was felt and would be said again and again everywhere the news spread.

A highly recommended read in the areas of history and leadership.

 

 

 

On Lenin’s Tomb

I recently finished reading the Pulitzer Prize winning book: Lenin’s Tomb – The Last Days of the Soviet Empire – by David Remnick.

Below are key excerpts from this masterpiece:

In the years after Stalin’s death, the state was an old tyrant slouched in the comer with cataracts and gallstones, his muscles gone slack. He The state was nearly senile, but still dangerous enough. He still kept the key to the border gate in his pocket and ruled every function of public life. Now and then he had fits and the world trembled.

When Brezhnev shoved Khrushchev out of power, the state M had the means to squash what little freedom it had allowed. The censors went through the libraries with razor blades and slashed from the bound copies of Novy Mir Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich…The regime would rather kill its brightest children than give way.

“It is perfectly obvious that the lack of the proper level of democratization of Soviet society was precisely what made possible both the cult of personality and the violations of the law, arbitrariness, and repressions of the thirties—to be blunt, real crimes based on the abuse of power. Many thousands of members of the Party and nonmembers were subjected to mass repressions. That, comrades, is the bitter truth. Serious damage was done to the cause of socialism and the authority of the Party, and we must speak bluntly about this. This is essential for the final and irreversible assertion of Lenin’s ideal of socialism. ‘The guilt of Stalin and those close to him before the Party and the people for the mass repressions and lawlessness that were permitted are immense and unforgivable…even now we still encounter attempts to ignore sensitive questions of our history, to hush them up, to pretend that nothing special questions of our history, to hush them up, to pretend that nothing special happened. We cannot agree with this, it would be a neglect of historical truth, disrespect for the memory of those who found themselves innocent victims of lawlessness and arbitrariness.”

But Gorbachev had not finished. There was a reason for his revelation. It tied out that he had saved his confession for traditional ends. “I’ve been told more than once that it is time to stop swearing allegiance to socialism,” he was saying now. “Why should I? Socialism is my deep conviction, and I will promote it as long as I can talk and work.” By late 1990, political opinion polls showed that only a minority of Soviet people—not more than 20 percent—still shared Gorbachev’s faith in the efficacy of socialism. But attempts to turn away from the “socialist choice” were inconceivable to Gorbachev—a betrayal, a “counterrevolution on the sly.”

But things had changed. The sharp ideological divisions within the Party had now become an open secret, an open struggle, and the trick was to get the support of powerful liberals within the structure. Three old friends—Yuri Afanasyev, Nikolai Shmelyov, and Yuri Karyakin—brought to the Nineteenth Special Party Conference, in June 1988, a petition demanding Karpinsky’s rehabilitation. With the help of his old acquaintances Aleksandr Yakovlev and Boris Pugo, the tactic worked. By the next year, Len Karpinsky was in the regular rotation as a columnist at Moscow News—a golden boy, he says, “of a certain age.”

The Communist Party apparatus was the most gigantic mafia the world has ever known. It guarded its monopoly on power with a sham consensus and constitution and backed it up with the force of the KGB and the Interior Ministry police. There were also handsome profits. The Party had so obviously socked away money abroad and sold off” national resources—including the country’s vast gold reserves—that just after the collapse of the August coup, the Party’s leading financial officer took a look into the future and threw himself off” a high balcony to his death.

But Gorbachev knew that he could not conduct a genuine investigation into the Partv’s corruption. First, the Party, of which he was the head, would sooner kill him than allow it. Second, even if he could carry out such an investigation, Gorbachev would be faced with the obvious embarrassment: the depths of the Party’s rot. Instead, taking a page from Andropov’s style manual, he made a grand symbolic gesture. Yuri Churbanov, Brezhnev’s son-in-law and a deputy chief of the Interior Ministry, was indicted and tried son-in-law and a deputy chief og the Interior Ministry, was indicted and tried for accepting more than $1 million in bribes while working in Uzbekistan…But just as he could never distance himself enough from a discredited ideology, Gorbachev’s inability to jettison the Party nomenklatura and his political debts to the KGB spoiled his reputation over time in the eyes of a people who had grown more and more aware of the corruption and deceit in their midst.

At first, the Kremlin had not seemed so threatened by the Baltic republics. They were, after all, a “special case,” minuscule states absorbed into the Soviet Union more than twenty years after the Bolshevik Revolution…But the Baltic example became the model not for the revitalization of the Union, but rather for its collapse. In the three years it took to win independence, the Baits were never violent, only stubborn. It was that very temperament—Sakharov’s calm confidence on a mass scale—that characterized their revolution. None of the other republics organized quite so well or thought with such precision and cool.

The idea that the individual was of absolute value appeared in Russia only in the nineteenth century via Western influences, but it was stunted because there was no civic society. This is why human rights was never an issue. The principle was set out very clearly by Metropolitan Illarion in the eleventh century in his ‘Sermon on Law and Grace,’ in which he makes clear that grace is higher than law; you see the same thing today in our great nationalists like Prokhanov—their version of grace is higher than the law. The law is somehow inhuman, abstract. The attempts to revise this principle were defeated. The Russian Revolution was a reaction of absolute simplification. Russia found its simplistic and fanatic response and conquered its support. What we are living through now is a breakthrough. We are leaving the Middle Ages.’

“When Mikhail Sergeyevich rejected the 500 Days program he was rejecting the last chance for a civilized transition to a new order,” Aleksandr Yakovlev told me. “It was probably his worst, most dangerous mistake, because what followed was nothing less than a war.”

And just as a change in consciousness in the people had led to this incredible resistance, one could not rule out that even the conspirators had evolved beyond their ancestors. They had the same Stalinist impulses, but not the core of cruelty, the willingness to flood the city in blood, call it a victory for socialism, and then go off” to a midnight screening of Happy Guys. They could pick up the pistol, but not always shoot it. They were bullies, and bullies could be called on their bluff”.

But without Yeltsin, Gorbachev might well have dallied more than he did, the radical democrats Gorbachev might never have found a single, strong leader, the coup might have succeeded. As much as they had come to despise each other, Gorbachev and Yeltsin were linked in history.

What he hopes for now, he said, was not a new empire, not the resuscitation of a great power, but simply the development of “a normal country.” It was time to join in that process. After a life that had reflected the agonies of the old regime—a communist youth, the war, prison, the camps, the battle with the Kremlin. forced exile—now, at the age of seventy-five, he was completing the circle. He had tickets to return home. “Even at the worst tunes. I knew I would be coming home.” he said. “It was crazy. No one believed it. But I knew I would come home to die in Russia.”

A highly recommended read in the areas of history and world politics.

JFK And The Unspeakable

I recently finished reading JFK and the Unspeakable – Why He Died and Why It Matters by James W. Douglass. As James Bradley best said it in his praise of the book: “A remarkable story that changed the way I view the World”.

Below are key excerpts from the book that I found particularly insightful:

“The Unspeakable” is a term Thomas Merton coined at the heart of the sixties after JFK’s assassination—in the midst of the escalating Vietnam War, the nuclear arms race, and the further assassinations of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and Robert Kennedy. In each of those soul-shaking events Merton sensed an evil w^hose depth and deceit seemed to go beyond the capacity of words to describe.

Whether or not JFK was a martyr his story could never have been told without the testimony of risk-taking witnesses to the truth. Even if their lives were not taken—and some were—they were all martyrs in the root meaning of the word, witnesses to the truth. The belief behind this book is that truth is the most powerful force on earth, what Gandhi called satyagraha, “truth-force” or “soul-force.” By his experiments in truth Gandhi turned theology on its head, saying “truth is God.” We all see a part of the truth and can seek it more deeply. Its other side is compassion, our response to suffering. The story of JFK and the Unspeakable is drawn from the suffering and compassion of many witnesses who saw the truth and spoke it. In living out the truth, we are liberated from the Unspeakable.

Two critical questions converge at Kennedy’s assassination. The first is: Why did his assassins risk exposure and a shameful downfall by covertly murdering a beloved president? The second is: Why was John Kennedy prepared to give his life for peace, when he saw death coming.? The second question may be key to the first, because there is nothing so threatening to systemic evil as those willing to stand against it regardless of the consequences. So we will try to see this story initially through the life of John Kennedy, to understand why he became so threatening to the most powerful military-economic coalition in history that its wielders of power were willing to risk everything they had in order to kill him.

To match the efficiency of a totalitarian enemy, U.S. military leaders urged legislation that would mobilize the nation to a state of constant readiness for war. Thus the National Security Act of 1947 laid the foundations of a national security state: the National Security Council (NSC), the National Security Resources Board (NSRB), the Munitions Board, the Research and Development Board, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Before the act was passed, Secretary of State George Marshall warned President Truman that it granted the new intelligence agency in particular powers that were “almost unlimited,” a criticism of the CIA that Truman would echo much too late—soon after the assassination of John Kennedy.

Castro’s comparison between Cuba and Vietnam provokes further questions about John Kennedy. If JFK had the courage to resist the CIA and the Pentagon on Cuba, as Castro recognized, how could he have allowed himself to be sucked into the war in Vietnam? Or did he finally turn around on Vietnam in a way that paralleled his changes toward the Soviet Union and Cuba? Did John Kennedy ultimately make a decision for peace in Vietnam that would become the final nail in his coffin?

As spring turned into the summer of 1963. President John F. Kennedy had decided to withdraw the U.S. military and neutralize Vietnam, just as he had done in Laos. When he said that one day to his aides Dave Powers and Kenny O’Donnell, they asked him bluntly: How could he do it? How could he carry out a military withdrawal from Vietnam without losing American prestige in Southeast Asia?

In Kennedy’s short presidency, the military-industrial complex actually increased its profits and power. JFK’s initial call to develop a military response to the Soviet Union and its allies that would be “more flexible” than the Eisenhower policy of mutual assured destruction expanded the Pentagon’s contracts with U.S. corporations. Yet in the summer of 1963, the leaders of the military-industrial complex could see storm clouds on their horizon. After JFK’s American University address and his quick signing of the Test Ban Treaty with Khrushchev, corporate power holders saw the distinct prospect in the not distant future of a settlement in the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. Both Kennedy and Khrushchev were prepared to shift their war of conflicting ideologies to more peaceful fronts. Kennedy wanted a complete ban on the testing of nuclear weapons, then mutual steps in nuclear disarmament. He saw a willing partner in Khrushchev, who wanted to ease the huge burden of arms expenditures on the Soviet economy. In that direction of U.S.-Soviet disarmament lay the diminished power of a corporate military system that for years had controlled the United States government. In his turn toward peace, Kennedy was beginning to undermine the dominant power structure that Eisenhower had finally identified and warned against so strongly as he left the White House.

In his deepening alienation from the CIA. the Pentagon, and big business. John Kennedy was moving consciously beyond the point of no return. Kennedy knew well the complicity that existed among the Cold War’s corporate elite. Pentagon planners, and the heads of “intelligence agencies.” He was no stranger to the way systemic power worked in and behind his national security state. But he still kept acting for “the interests of the great mass of Other people”—and as his brother Robert put it, to prevent “the specter of the death of the children of this country and around the world.” That put him more and more deeply in conflict with those who controlled the system.

On September 20, 1963. two months and two days before his death. Kennedy spoke to the United Nations. He took the opportunity to return to a theme of his American University address—pursuing a strategy of peace through a step-by-step process. Peace,” he said, “is a daily, a weekly, a monthly process, gradually changing opinions, slowly eroding old barriers, quietly building new structures. And however undramatic the pursuit of peace, that pursuit must go on.”

Just as Chicago was the model for Dallas, Saigon was the backdrop for Chicago. The virtual simultaneity of the successful Saigon plot to assassinate Ngo Dinh Diem and the unsuccessful Chicago plot to assassinate John F. Kennedy strongly suggests their having been coordinated in a single, comprehensive scenario. If Kennedy had been murdered in Chicago on the day after Diem’s and Nhu’s murders in Saigon, the juxtaposition of the events would have created the perfect formula to be spoon-fed to the public: “Kennedy murdered Diem, and got what he deserved.”

How real was the threat to use President Kennedy’s assassination as the justification for an attack on Cuba and the Soviet Union? When we take off our Warren Commission blinders, we can see that the letter sent to the Soviet Embassy was designed to implicate the Soviets and Cubans in the murder of the president of the United States. That was the apparent tactic of a twofold, winner-take-all plot: a plot to assassinate the president who was prepared to negotiate an end to the Cold War, intertwined with a deeper plot to use fraudulent proof of the U.S.S.R.’s and Cuba’s responsibility for that assassination so as to justify the option of preemptive strikes on those same two Communist nations. President Kennedy encountered that kind of push for a nuclear first strike against the Soviet Union from the beginning of his presidency. While such a “winning strategy” was becoming a top-secret, military priority, the pressures on Kennedy to approve it were so intense that it took a contemplative monk in the silence of his Kentucky monastery to recognize and articulate the truth.

On December 22, 1963, one month to the day after JFK’s assassination. Former President Truman published a very carefully worded article in the Washington Post warning the American people about the danger of the CIA taking over the government. He wrote: “I think it has become necessary to take another look at the purpose and Operations of our Central Intelligence Agency—CIA … “For some time I have been disturbed by the way the CIA has been diverted from its original assignment. It has become an operational and at times a policy-making arm of the Government. This has led to trouble and may have compounded our difficulties in several explosive areas. “We have grown up as a nation, respected for our free institutions and for our ability to maintain a free and open society. There is something about the way the CIA has been functioning that is casting a shadow over our historic position and I feel that we need to correct it.” Truman’s warning, with its ominous post-assassination timing, was greeted by total silence. Had it been noticed and heeded, the controversial ex-president might have been accused more justly this time of trying to abolish the CIA, since he did indeed want to abolish its covert activities. President Harry Truman had himself established the CIA in 1947, but not. he thought, to do what he saw it doing in the fall of 1963.

Then came the heart of the speech, the most eloquent statement of John F. Kennedy’s presidency: “So, let us not be blind to our differences—but let us also direct attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”

Secretary of State Dean Rusk’s memory of what Jacqueline Kennedy said to Mikoyan was more succinct: “My husband’s dead. Now peace is up to you.” That essence of her message is appropriate to us all. John F. Kennedy is dead. Now peace is up to us.

President Kennedy’s courageous turn from global war to a strategy of peace provides the why of his assassination. Because he turned toward peace with our enemies, the Communists, he found himself at odds with his own national security state. Peacemaking was at the top of his agenda as president. That was not the kind of leadership the CIA, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the military-industrial complex wanted in the White House. Given the Cold War dogmas that gripped those dominant powers, and given Kennedy’s turn toward peace, his assassination followed as a matter of course. The story of why John Kennedy died encircles the earth. Because JFK chose peace on earth at the height of the Cold War, he was executed. But because he turned toward peace, in spite of the consequences to himself. humanity is still alive and struggling. That is hopeful, especially if we understand what he went through and what he has given us as his vision.

A must read on leadership, politics and world affairs.

 

On The Wealth of Nations

I recently finished reading the landmark classic The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith. This book has been on my reading list for a long time, but I was discouraged by its length (1200+ pages). Having now read it, I am very glad I did. The breadth and depth of this book is – even after 239 years of publication – a monumental achievement.

Below are key excerpts from the book that I found particularly insightful:

As it is by treaty, by barter, and by purchase, that we obtain from one another the greater part of those mutual good offices which we stand in need of, so it is this same trucking disposition which originally gives occasion to the division of labour.

The value of any commodity, therefore, to the person who possesses it, and who means not to use or consume it himself, but to exchange it for other commodities, is equal to the quantity of labour which it enables him to purchase or command. Labour, therefore, is the real measure of the exchangeable value of all commodities.

The five following are the principal circumstances which, so far as I have been able to observe, make up for a small ~ pecuniary gain in some employments, and counter-balance a great one in others: first. the agreeableness or disagreeableness of the — employments themselves; secondly, the easiness and cheapness, or the difficulty and expence of learning them; thirdly, the constancy or inconstancy of employment in them; fourthly, the small or great trust which must be reposed in those who exercise them; and fifthly, the probability or improbability of success in them.

I shall conclude this very long chapter with observing that every improvement in the circumstances of the society tends either directly or indirectly to raise the real rent of land, to increase the real wealth of the landlord, his power of purchasing the labour, or the produce of the labour of other people.

Political economy considered as a branch of the science of a statesman or legislator, proposes two distinct objects: first, to provide a plentiful revenue or subsistence for the people, or more properly to enable them to provide such a revenue or subsistence for themselves; and secondly, to supply the state or commonwealth with a revenue sufficient for the public services. It proposes to enrich both the people and the sovereign.

The importation of gold and silver is not the principal. much less the sole benefit which a nation derives from its foreign trade. Between whatever places foreign trade is carried on, they all of them derive two distinct benefits from it. It carries out that surplus part of the produce of their land and labour for which there is no demand among them, and brings back in return for it something else for which there is a demand. It gives a value to their superfluities, by exchanging them for something else, which may satisfy a part of their wants, and increase their enjoyments. By means of it, the narrowness of the home market does not hinder the division of labour in any particular branch of art or manufacture from being carried to the highest perfection.

We must carefully distinguish between the effects of the colony trade and those of the monopoly of that trade. The former are always and necessarily beneficial; the latter always and necessarily hurtful. But the former are so beneficial, that the colony trade, though subject to a monopoly, and notwithstanding the hurtful effects of that monopoly, is still upon the whole beneficial, and greatly beneficial; though a good deal less so than it otherwise would be.

The discovery of America, and that of a passage to the East Indies by the Cape of Good Hope, are the two greatest and most important events recorded in the history of mankind. Their consequences have already been very great: but, in the short period of between two and three centuries which has elapsed since these discoveries were made, it is impossible that the whole extent of their consequences can have been seen.

When a landed nation, on the contrary, oppresses either by high duties or by prohibitions the trade of foreign nations, it necessarily hurts its own interest in two different ways. First, by raising the price of all foreign goods and of all sorts of manufactures, it necessarily sinks the real value of the surplus produce of its own land, with which, or, what comes to the same thing. with the price of which, it purchases those foreign goods and manufactures. Secondly, by giving a sort of monopoly of the home market to its own merchants, artificers and manufacturers, it raises the rate of mercantile !e and manufacturing profit in proportion to that of agricultural profit, and consequently either draws from agriculture a part of the capital which had before been employed in it, or hinders from going to it a part of what would otherwise have gone to it. This policy, therefore, discourages agriculture in two different ways; first, by sinking the real value of its produce, and thereby lowering the rate of its profit; and, secondly, by raising the rate of profit in all other employments. Agriculture is rendered less advantageous, and trade and manufactures more advantageous than they otherwise would be; and every man is tempted by his own interest to turn, as much as he can, both his capital and his industry from the former to the latter employments.

According to the system of natural liberty, the sovereign has only three duties to attend to; three duties of great importance, indeed, but plain and intelligible to common understandings: first, the duty of protecting the society from the violence and invasion of other independent societies; secondly, the duty of protecting, as far as possible, every member of the society from the injustice or oppression of every other member of it, or the duty of establishing an exact administration of justice; and, thirdly, the duty of erecting and maintaining certain public works and certain public institutions, which it can never be for the interest of any individual, or small number of individuals, to erect and maintain; because the profit could never repay the expence to any individual or small number of individuals, though it may frequently do much more than repay it to a great society.

Commerce and manufactures, in short, can seldom flourish in any state in which there is not a certain degree of confidence in the justice of government. The same confidence which disposes great merchants and manufacturers, upon ordinary occasions, to trust their property to the protection of a particular government; disposes them, upon extraordinary occasions, to trust that government with the use of their property. By lending money to government, they do not even for a moment diminish their ability to carry on their trade and manufactures. On the contrary, they commonly augment it. The necessities of the state render government upon most occasions willing to borrow upon terms extremely advantageous to the lender. The security which it grants to the original creditor, is made transferable to any other creditor, and, from the universal confidence in the justice of the state, generally sells in the market for more than was originally paid for it.

But if the empire can no longer support the expence of keeping up this equipage, it ought certainly to lay it down; and if it cannot raise its revenue in proportion to its expence, it ought, at least, to accommodate its expence to its revenue. If the colonies, notwithstanding their refusal to submit to British taxes, are still to be considered as provinces of the British empire, their defence in some future war may cost Great Britain as great an expence as it ever has done in any former war. The rulers of Great Britain have, for more than a century past, amused the people with the imagination that they possessed a great empire on the west side of the Atlantic. This empire, however, has hitherto existed in imagination only. It has hitherto been, not an empire, but the project of an empire; not a gold mine, but the project of a gold mine; a project which has cost, which continues to cost, and which, if pursued in the “”same way as it has been hitherto, is likely to cost, immense expence, without being likely to bring any profit; for the effects of the monopoly of the colony trade, it has been shewn, are, to the great body of the people, mere loss instead of profit. It is surely now time that our rulers should either realize this golden dream, in which they have been indulging themselves, perhaps, as well as the people; or, that they should awake from it themselves, and endeavour to awaken the people. If the project cannot be completed, it ought to be given up. If any of the provinces of the British empire cannot be made to contribute towards the support of the whole empire, it is surely time that Great Britain should free herself from the expence of defending those provinces in time of war. and of supporting any part of their civil or military establishments in time of peace, and endeavour to accommodate her future views and designs to the real mediocrity of her circumstances.

A must read for anyone seeking a deeper understanding of economics.

 

On Washington

I recently finished reading the masterpiece, Washington – A Life, a winner of the Pulitzer Prize, by acclaimed author Ron Chernow. As Ron states in the introduction: “The goal of the present biography is to create a fresh portrait of Washington that will make him real, credible, and charismatic in the same way that he was perceived by his contemporaries. By gleaning anecdotes and quotes from myriad sources, especially from hundreds of eyewitness accounts, I have tried to make him vivid and immediate, rather than the lifeless waxwork he has become for many Americans, and thereby elucidate the secrets of his uncanny ability to lead a nation.”

Below are selected excerpts from the book that I found particularly insightful:

Gouverneur Morris agreed that Washington had “the tumultuous passions which accompany greatness and frequently tarnish its luster. With them was his first contest, and his first victory was over himself…Yet those who have seen him strongly moved will bear witness that his wrath was terrible. They have seen, boiling in his bosom, passion almost too mighty for man.

What strikes one most about the twenty-year-old George Washington was that his sudden remarkable standing in the world was the result not so much of a slow. agonizing progress as of a series of rapid, abrupt leaps that thrust him into the topmost echelons of Virginia society. The deaths of those he loved most dearly had. ironically, brightened his prospects the most. Quite contrary to his own wishes, the untimely deaths of his father and his half-brother had endowed him with extraordinary advantages in the form of land, slaves, and social status. Every misfortune only pushed him further along his desired path. Most providential of all for him was that Lawrence Washington had expired on the eve of the French and Indian War, a conflict in which George’s newfound status as district adjutant would place him squarely at the forefront of a thunderous global confrontation.

Beneath the hard rind, Washington was far more sensitive than he appeared. and this heartfelt message from his men “affected him exceedingly,” he admitted. He had a fine sense of occasion, displayed in this early response to his men. Already adept at tearful farewells, he exhibited the succinct eloquence that came to define his speaking style. He began by calling the officers’ approval of his conduct “an honor that will constitute the greatest happiness of my fife and afford in my latest hours the most pleasing reflections.” Unable to avoid a youthful dig at Dinwiddle and Forbes, he hinted at the “uncommon difficulties” under which he had labored. But it was the palpable affection he summoned up for his men that made the statement noteworthy. Washington thanked his officers “with uncommon sincerity and true affection for the honor you have done me, for if I have acquired any reputation, it is from you I derive it. I thank you also for the love and regard you have all along shown me. It is in this I am rewarded. It is herein I glory.”

One thing that hasn’t aroused dispute is the exemplary nature of Washington’s religious tolerance. He shuddered at the notion of exploiting religion for partisan purposes or showing favoritism for certain denominations. As president, when writing to Jewish, Baptist, Presbyterian, and other congregations—he officially saluted twenty-two major religious groups—he issued eloquent statements on rel i tolerance. He was so devoid of spiritual bias that his tolerance even embraced atheism.

For all the many virtues he had shown in his life, nothing quite foreshadowed the wisdom, courage, fortitude, and resolution that George Washington had just exhibited. Adversity had brought his best traits to the surface and even ennobled him. Sensing it, Abigail Adams told her friend Mercy Otis Warren, “I am apt to think that our later misfortunes have called out the hidden excellencies of our commander-in-chief.” She quoted a line from the English poet Edward Young: “‘Affliction is the good man’s shining time.'” One consistent thread from his earlier life had prefigured these events: Washington’s tenacity of purpose, his singular ability to stalk a goal with all the resources at his disposal.

Instead of elevating himself above his men, Washington portrayed himself as their friend and peer. Having softened them up with personal history, he delivered an impassioned appeal to their deep-seated patriotism.

The man who had pulled off the exemplary feat of humbling the most powerful military on earth had not been corrupted by fame. Though quietly elated and relieved, he was neither intoxicated by power nor puffed up with a sense of his own genius.

As Benjamin Franklin told an English friend after the war, “An American planter was chosen by us to command our troops and continued during the whole war. This man sent home to you, one after another, five of your best generals, baffled, their heads bare of laurels, disgraced even in the opinion of their employers.”

Historians often quote a September 1786 letter from Washington to John Francis Mercer as signaling a major forward stride in his thinking on slavery: “I never mean (unless some particular circumstance should compel me to it) to possess another slave by purchase, it being among my first wishes to see some plan adopted by the legislature by which slavery in this country may be abolished by slow, sure, and imperceptible degrees.” But this noble statement then took a harsh turn. Washington mentioned being hard pressed by two debts—to retire one of which, “if there is no other resource, I must sell land or Negroes to discharge.” In other words. in a pinch, Washington would trade slaves to settle debts. Clearly, the abolition of slavery would have exacted too steep an economic price for Washington to contemplate serious action.

Washington was a perceptive man who, behind his polite facade, was unmatched at taking the measure of people. People did not always realize how observant he was.

The gist of many of Washington’s remarks was that French actions toward America had been motivated by self-interest, not ideological solidarity, and flouted American neutrality in seeking to enlist the United States in the war against England. The imbroglio with Monroe signaled the demise of yet another Washington friendship with a prominent Virginian, a list that now encompassed George Mason, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and Edmund Randolph.

The presidential legacy he left behind in Philadelphia was a towering one. As Gordon Wood has observed, “The presidency is the powerful office it is in large part because of Washington’s initial behavior.” Washington had forged the executive branch of the federal government, appointed outstanding department heads, and set a benchmark for fairness, efficiency, and integrity that future administrations would aspire to match.

Washington never achieved the national unity he desired and, by the end, presided over a deeply riven country…But whatever his or clamp down on his shrill opponents in the press who had hounded him mercilessly. To his everlasting credit, he showed that the American political system could manage tensions without abridging civil liberties. His most flagrant failings remained those of the country as a whole—the inability to deal forthrightly with the injustice of slavery or to figure out an equitable solution in the ongoing clashes with Native Americans.

Washington died in a manner that befit his life: with grace, dignity, self-possession, and a manifest regard for others. He never yielded to shrieks, hysteria. or unseemly complaints.

George Washington possessed the gift of inspired simplicity, a clarity and purity of vision that never failed him. Whatever petty partisan disputes swirled around him, he kept his eyes fixed on the transcendent goals that motivated his quest. As sensitive to criticism as any other man, he never allowed personal attacks or threats to distract him, following an inner compass that charted the way ahead. For a quarter century, he had stuck to an undeviating path that led straight to the creation of an independent republic, the enactment of the Constitution, and the formation of the federal government. History records few examples of a leader who so earnestly wanted to do the right thing, not just for himself but for his country. Avoiding moral shortcuts, he consistently upheld such high ethical standards that he seemed larger than any other figure on the political scene. Again and again the American people had entrusted him with power, secure in the knowledge that he would exercise it fairly and ably and surrender it when his term of office was up. He had shown that the president and commander-in-chief of a republic could possess a grandeur surpassing that of all the crowned heads of Europe. He brought maturity, sobriety, judgment, and integrity to a political experiment that could easily have grown giddy with its own vaunted success, and he avoided the backbiting, envy, and intrigue that detracted from the achievements of other founders. He had indeed been the indispensable man of the American Revolution.

A must read book about a key historical figure, not only for the US but for the world at large.

Pity the Nation

I recently finished reading Pity the Nation – The Abduction of Lebanon by award-winning journalist Robert Fisk. I had possessed this book for a while, but didn’t have the chance to read it until now. Being Lebanese this book particularly resonated with me as it covered the many dimensions of instability within Lebanon and the Middle East region for the last 50 years.

Below are some key excerpts from this historical masterpiece:

I think I was in Lebanon because I believed, in a somewhat undefined way. that I was witnessing history – that I would see with my own eyes a small part of the epic events that have shaped the Middle East since the Second World War.

At best, journalists sit at the edge of history as vulcanologists might clamber to the lip of a smoking crater, trying to see over the rim, craning their necks to peer over the crumbling edge through the smoke and ash at what happens within. Governments make sure it stays that way. I suspect that is what journalism is about – or at least what it should be about: watching and witnessing history and then, despite the dangers and constraints and our human imperfections, recording it as honestly as we can.

I hate the reporters who moaned about their ‘stress’, their need for ‘counselling, their walks through hell. We journalists are, after all, privileged folk. If we don’t like the heat, we can fly home. Club Class, to the glistening bubble of Europe or America, a glass of champagne in our hand. It was the Lebanese, the Bosnians, the Afghans who needed our pity, citizens of pariah countries for whom there were no planes, no visas, no safety, no life. And it was my doubtful, dangerous privilege – along with my colleagues – to be a witness to their suffering, to record their history, so that no-one could ever complain that no-one told them. So that no-one can ever say: ‘We didn’t know.’

What I did not realise then – but what I would discover the moment I embarked on my journey to those front doors – was that I had touched upon the essence of the Arab-Israeli war; that while the existence of the Palestinians and their demand for a nation lay at the heart of the Middle East crisis, it was the contradiction inherent in the claims to ownership of the land of Palestine – the “homeland” of the Jews in Balfour’s declaration – which generated the anger and fear of both Palestinians and Israelis. The evidence of history, not to mention the physical evidence of those land deeds, suggested a subject of legitimate journalistic inquiry: who legally as well as morally had the right to ownership of the property?

For another generation, this Covenant was to be held up as a model of political excellence within the Middle East, especially by the Western powers which gave it such approval but which did not have to suffer its consequences. It was supposed to be a paragon of democracy in an Arab world more familiar with dictatorship than freedom. But there were two fundamental flaws in the Covenant. The first was that the Maronite community which at best constituted only 30 per cent of the Lebanese – was almost certainly outnumbered by the Sunnis or the Shias. There had been no census since 1932 – nor was there ever to be a census again. The myth of a Maronite majority thus had to be accepted by the Muslims for Lebanon’s ‘democracy’ to work. For their part, the Muslims had already given up their claim to reunion with Syria as their price for participation in government under the Covenant.

To 1982 again, to the high-ceilinged room in east Beirut where Pierre Gemayel sits behind his large oak desk. He does not wish to talk further about his visit to Berlin in 1936. But he does not wait to be asked about the Palestinians. He calls them a ‘fifth column’ and he means it. They were a subversive presence here,’ he says. There was a war, not between us and the Lebanese, but between us and the Palestinians, who tried to conquer Lebanon and take Lebanon and occupy it. They wanted to dissolve Lebanon in the Arab world.’ And one is conscious as Pierre Gemayel speaks – unfairly perhaps but the parallel is there – of Gemayel speaks – unfairly of another, infinitely more vulnerable minority which another government blamed, back in the 1930s, for its own social ills.

In Lebanon, one shot, one bomb, has served to immortalise a cause. to make words unimpeachable, arguments irreproachable. To question the dead is sacrilege of a special kind. Look at the legions of martyrs on the walls of Beirut, all those who followed this wisdom of the dead. Study the confident, smiling eyes of Bilal Fahas, lionised by the Amal militia as arouss al-jnoub the ‘bridegroom of the south’, his last moments captured by Amal’s official war artist, driving his Mercedes car bomb into an Israeli armoured personnel carrier. After a while, a routine started; the martyrs would have their own show on television.

Journalists who report wars have to be as dispassionate as doctors 3bout the physical aspects of mortality. We needed the psychological strength to convince ourselves that gruesome detail was also scientific fact; we had to interpret the smell of human decomposition not as something disgusting but as a process of chemical change that was natural if unpleasant. Yet all this is easier said than done. Death is frightening. If nothing else, the dead of Lebanon – the repeated experience of seeing bodies lying like sacks in roadways, ditches and cellars were a constant reminder to us of how easy it is to be killed. It is a necessary lesson. Just one little step across a very fine line, the slightest misjudgement over when to cross a road, when to smile or look serious in front of a gunman, could mean the difference between life and death.

For Arafat, the issues were simple if not simplistic. Palestinians and Lebanese had died in defence of a land that would ‘remain Arab through and through’. His was the path of the sleepwalker, the believer in the blood sacrifice. Those who had been steadfast in battle against the Israelis would know how to transform their ‘new revolutionary awakening into a beam of light and victory on the long road of pains, the road of Golgotha, towards liberated Palestine and to our noble Jerusalem. But Arafat was not going to Jerusalem. He was leaving Beirut onn a Greek cruise ship for exile in Tunisia.

Everyone is convinced that tithe IDF is more humane than any other army. “Purity of arms” was the slogan of the Haganah army in early ’48. But it never was true at all.’ , Politicians, according to Avneri, used the Holocaust as moral blackmail. But it’s real, it’s not invented – it’s there. It produces an odd kind of schizophrenic attitude. The Israelis will say: “We’ll never allow another Warsaw ghetto or Auschwitz to happen again.” Then they’ll tell you they can conquer the whole Middle East in forty-eight hours. No one feels any contradiction in this.’

But ‘terrorism’ no longer means terrorism. It is not a definition; it is a political contrivance. ‘Terrorists’ are those who use violence against the side that is using the word. The only terrorists whom Israel acknowledges are those who oppose Israel. The only terrorists the United States acknowledges are those who oppose the United States or their allies. The only terrorists Palestinians acknowledge ~ for they too use the The only terrorists Palestinians acknowledge — for they too use the word – are those opposed to the Palestinians.

The Lebanese Christians would have been the first to strip Israel of its illusions about the Shia Muslims of the south. If Sunni orthodoxy condemned the Shia as theological heretics, the Christians saw them ” in the words of one Lebanese academic as ‘the Albigensians of the Middle East’. In Lebanese politics, heresy meant betrayal, and the poverty of the hill villages of southern Lebanon, the historical neglect suspicion deep inside the framework of Lebanese Shia society. We would encounter this ourselves on visits to the south. Shia friends whom we had known for months, family members with whom we had stayed for weeks – men and women who had protected us during periods of would turn to us suddenly, without warning, at breakfast or on a car journey and ask: ‘Are you a spy?’

On a concluding note:

A quarter of a century. When I thought about it, I felt old. Yet working in the same region, watching the same tragedy, involves a kind of eternal youth. I still felt as young and fit as I was when I first came to Lebanon in the hot and terrible summer of 1976.1 was 29 then, with my parents’ energy and wisdom and my own schoolboy enthusiasm. My father had fought in the trenches of France in 1918 and in the year he died, I was in the city that sent him there, watching the continuation of the European civil war in Sarajevo. My mother had died six years later. in 1998.1 had no brothers or sisters. Sometimes I felt very much alone. But I had come through, I told myself. I made it. How very easy it would have been to die in Lebanon.

Yet Still as I write now, I fear the monsters. Perhaps I fear history and the frightening authority it has over our lives, its ability to persuade us to repeat our tragedies, over and over again. Maybe this is what draws me back to the slums of Sabra and Chatila year after year, with its garbage and rats and hopelessness. Balfour and the British mandate of Palestine, Hitler and Zionism – yes, and the Arabs – all conspired to imprison these poor people in the slums. Arafat had abandoned them for his garbage statelet in Gaza. In February 2001 I was back in the camps again, still trying to find one more clue – one more unheard witness – to the massacre of 1982.1 walked again those same roads. Here is where I found the body of the old man with the stick, Mr Nouri. Just beyond is the execution wall and, to the left, the spot where I found the two women and the dead baby. Behind me is the ward where Loren Jenkins and I hid beside the dead body of the newly murdered young woman, the one with the clothes pegs lying round her head like a halo. And right here, on this stretch of muddy road, is where Jenkins, sickened by the smell of death and the personal responsibility of one man, screamed: ‘Sharon!’ A day after that last visit of mine to Sabra and Chatila, on 6 February 2001, Ariel Sharon was elected prime minister of Israel.

A must read for anyone looking to understand the geopolitics of the Middle East in general and Lebanon in particular.

On The Law

I have recently finished reading the classic The Law by Frederic Bastiat, translated by Patrick James Stirling. While short in terms of length, this book is filled with wisdom and guidance on the fundamentals principles of law, and the role of governments.

The main premise of the book:

The law perverted! The law and, in its wake, all the collective forces of the nation. The law, I say, not only diverted from its proper direction, but made to pursue one entirely contrary! The law becomes the tool of every kind of avarice. instead of being its check! The law guilty of that very iniquity which it was its mission to punish! Truly, this is a serious fact, if it exists. and one to which I feel bound to call the attention of my fellow citizens.

On What Is Law?

What, then, is law? As I have said elsewhere, it is the collective organization of the individual right to lawful defense. Nature, or rather God, has bestowed upon every one of us the right to defend his person. his liberty, and his property, since these are e three constituent or preserving elements of life; elements, each of which is rendered complete by the others, and cannot be understood without them. For what are our faculties, but the extension of our personality? and what is property, but an extension of our faculties? If every man has the right of defending. even by force, his person, his liberty, and his property, a number of men have the right to combine together, to extend, to organize a common force, to provide regularly for this defense. Collective right, then, has its principle, its reason for existing, its lawfulness, in individual right; and the common force cannot rationally have any other end, or any other mission, than that of the isolated forces for which it is substituted. Thus, as the force of an individual cannot lawfully touch the person, the liberty, or the property of another individual – for the same reason, the common force cannot lawfully be used to destroy the person, the liberty, or the property of individuals or of classes.

On A Just and Enduring Government

So long as personal safety was ensured, so long as labor was free, and the fruits of labor secured against all unjust attacks, no one would have any difficulties to contend with in the State. When prosperous. we should not, it is true, have to thank the State for our success; but when unfortunate, we should no more think of taxing it with our disasters, than our peasants think of attributing to it the arrival of hail or of frost. We should know it only by the inestimable blessing of Safety.

On Perverted Law Causes Conflict

Yes, as long as it is admitted that the law may be diverted from its true mission, that it may violate property instead of securing it. everybody will be wanting to manufacture law, either to defend himself against plunder. or to organize it for his own profit. The political question will always be prejudicial, predominant, and absorbing; in a word there will be fighting around the door of the Legislative Palace.

Slavery and Tariffs Are Plunder

That of slavery and that of tariffs; that is. precisely the only two questions in which. contrary to the general spirit of this republic. law has taken the character of a plunderer. Slavery is a violation, sanctioned by law of the rights of the person. Protection is a violation perpetrated by the law upon the rights of property; and certainly it is very remarkable that, in the midst of so many other debates, this double legal scourge, the sorrowful inheritance of the Old World, should be the only one which can, and perhaps will, cause the rupture of the Union.

On Legal Plunder Has Many Names

Now, legal plunder may be exercised in an infinite multitude of ways. Hence come an infinite multitude of plans for organization; tariffs, protection, perquisites, gratuities. encouragements, progressive taxation. gratuitous instruction, right to labor, right to profit, right to wages, right to assistance, right to instruments of labor, gratuity of credit, etc.. etc. And it is all these plans, taken as a whole, with what they have in common, legal plunder, which takes the name of socialism.

On Law Is a Negative Concept

They fulfill a mission whose harmlessness is evident, whose utility is palpable, and whose legitimacy is not to be disputed. This is so true that, as a friend of mine once remarked to me, to say that the aim of the law is to cause justice to reign, is to use an expression which is not rigorously exact. It ought to be said, the aim of the law is to prevent injustice from reigning. In fact, it is not justice which has an existence of its own, it is injustice. The one results from the absence of the other.

On Socialists Fear All Liberties

What sort of liberty should be allowed to men? Liberty of conscience? — But we should them all profiting by the permission to become atheists. Liberty of education?…Liberty of labor?…The liberty of trade?…Liberty of association?…You must see, then, that the socialist democrats cannot in conscience allow men liberty, because, by their own nature, they tend in every instance to all kinds of degradation and demoralization.

On Politics and Economics

It is not true that the mission of the law is to regulate our consciences, our ideas, our will, our education, our sentiments, our works, our exchanges, our gifts, our enjoyments. Its mission is to prevent the rights of one from interfering with those of another, in any one of these things. Law, because it has force for its necessary sanction, can only have as its lawful domain the domain of force, which is justice. And as every individual has a right to have recourse to force only in cases of lawful defense, so collective force, which is only the union of individual forces, cannot be rationally used for any other end. The law, then, is solely the organization of individual rights, which existed before legitimate defense. Law is justice.

On Proof of an Idea

And have I not experience on my side? Cast your eye over the globe. Which are the happiest, the most moral, and the most peaceable nations? Those where the law interferes the least with private activity; where the Government is the least felt; where individuality has the most scope, and public opinion the most influence: where the machinery of the administration is the least important and the least complicated; where taxation is lightest and least unequal, popular discontent the least excited and the least justifiable; where the responsibility of individuals and classes is the most active, and where, consequently, if morals are not in a perfect state, at any rate they tend incessantly to correct themselves: where transactions. meetings, and associations are the least fettered: where labor, capital and production suffer the least from artificial displacements; where mankind follows most completely its own natural course; where the thought of God prevails the most over the inventions of men; those, in short, who realize the most nearly this idea — That within the limits of right, all should flow from the free, perfectible, and voluntary action of man; nothing be attempted by the law or by force. except the administration of universal justice.

On Now Let Us Try Liberty

God has implanted in mankind, also, all that is necessary to enable it to accomplish its destinies. There is a providential social physiology, as well as a providential human physiology. The social organs are constituted so as to enable them to develop harmoniously in the grand air of liberty. Away, then, with quacks and organizers! Away with their rings, and their chains, and their hooks, and their pincers! Away with their artificial methods! Away with their social workshops. their governmental whims, their centralization, their tariffs, their universities. their State religions, their gratuitous or monopolizing banks, their limitations, their restrictions, their moralizations, and their equalization by taxation! And now, after having vainly inflicted upon the social body so many systems, let them end where they ought to have begun – reject all systems, and make trial of liberty — of liberty, which is an act of faith in God and in His work.

A must read in the areas of law, government and business/economics.

 

Titan – The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr.

The name Rockefeller is ingrained within both American History and Business, but why so? This is the question that set me on the quest to read the National Bestseller, Titan – The Life Of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. by Ron Chernow.

Below are key highlights from this masterpiece that I wanted to share.

John D. Rockefeller’s began displaying and developing his business acumen at a young age:

Though only dimly aware of such distant developments, John D. Rockefeller already seemed a perfect specimen of homo economicus. Even as a boy, he bought candy by the pound, divided it into small portions, then sold it at a tidy profit to his siblings. By age seven, encouraged by his mother, he was dropping gold, silver, and copper coins that he earned into a blue china bowl on the mantel. John’s first business coup came at age seven when he shadowed a turkey hen as it waddled off into the woods, raided its nest, and raised the chicks for sale. To spur his enterprise, Eliza gave him milk curds to feed the turkeys, and the next year he raised an even larger brood. As an old man. Rockefeller said, “To this day, I enjoy the sight of a flock of turkeys, and never miss an opportunity of studying them.”

The same was also true for his attachment to his religious beliefs:

John D. Rockefeller was drawn to the church, not as some nagging duty or obligation but as something deeply refreshing to the soul. The Baptist church of his boyhood provides many clues to the secrets of his character. As a young man. he was raised on a steady diet of maxims, grounded in evangelical Protestantism, that guided his conduct. Many of his puritanical attitudes, which may seem antiquated to a later generation, were merely the religious commonplaces of his boyhood. Indeed, the saga of his monumental business feats is inseparable from the fire-and-brimstone atmosphere that engulfed upstate New York in his childhood.

These two elements formed the two pillars of his life:

He possessed a sense of calling in both religion and business, with Christianity and capitalism forming the twin pillars of his life…When challenges to orthodoxy arose in later decades, he stuck by the spiritual certainties of his boyhood…The church gave Rockefeller the community of friends he craved and the respect and affection he needed.

The role he had to play within his family, tough him responsibility:

Of course, this boyhood responsibility took its toll on John D., who experienced little of the spontaneous joy or levity of youth. Growing up as a miniature adult, burdened with duties. He developed an exaggerated sense of responsibility that would be evident throughout his life. He learned to see himself as a reluctant savior, taking charge of troubled situations that needed to be remedied.

On his entry to the Oil sector:

Tramping the banks. Rockefeller beheld the satanic new world bequeathed by the oil boom, an idyllic valley blackened with derricks and tanks, engine houses and ramshackle huts, thickly crowded together in a crazy-quilt pattern…Rockefeller represented the second, more rational stage of capitalist development, when the colorful daredevils and pioneering speculators give way, as Max Weber wrote, to the “men who had grown up in the hard school of life. calculating and daring at the same time, above all temperate and reliable, shrewd and completely devoted to their business, with strictly bourgeois opinions and principles.”

One of the keys to his business success was that he kept cash on hand, and allies in the banking sectors – which were essential particularly during the times of crisis:

It is impossible to comprehend Rockefeller’s breathtaking ascent without realizing that he always moved into battle backed by abundant cash. Whether riding out downturns or coasting on booms, he kept plentiful reserves and won many bidding contests simply because his war chest was deeper…To have orchestrated such a rapid campaign required a long relationship of trust with the banks.

Rockefeller believed in the importance of balanced work ethic:

Rockefeller bridled at the notion that he was a business-obsessed drudge, a slave to the office. “I know of nothing more despicable and pathetic than a man who devotes all the waking hours of the day to making money for money’s sake,” he recorded in his memoirs. He worked at a more leisurely pace than many other executives, napping daily after lunch and often dozing in a lounge chair after dinner. To explain his extraordinary longevity he later said, doubtless overstating the matter, “I’m here because I shirked: did less work, lived more in the open air, enjoyed the open air, sunshine and exercise.”

On his skillful negotiation skills:

One of Rockefeller’s strengths in bargaining situations was that he figured out what he wanted and what the other party wanted and then crafted mutually advantageous terms. Instead of ruining the railroads, Rockefeller tried to help them prosper, albeit in a way that fortified his own position.

One of his shortcomings was that he remained silent in the face of criticism, which haunted him particularly during the public relation battles he fought:

Only in the twilight of life did Rockefeller realize how poorly his taciturnity had served him in business battles. This was especially true during the SIC furor, which evolved into a political and public-relations battle. By remaining silent in the face of criticism, he thought he would seem confident and secure in his integrity—in fact, he seemed guilty and arrogantly evasive. Throughout his career. Rockefeller endured abuse with so much equanimity that Flagler once shook his head and said, “John, you have a hide like a rhinoceros! “

On his view of capitalism, and how he linked it to his religious beliefs:

In a critical distinction, he viewed competitive capitalism—and not capitalism per se—as producing a vulgar materialism and rapacious business practices that dissolved the bonds of human brotherhood. In a state of ungoverned competition, selfish individuals tried to maximize their profits and thereby impoverished the entire industry What the American economy needed instead were new cooperative forms (trusts, pools, monopolies) that would restrain grasping individuals for the general good. Rockefeller thus tried to reconcile trusts with Christianity, claiming that cooperation would end the egotism and materialism abhorrent to Christian values. It was an ingenious rationalization. While religion did not lead him to the concept of trusts, it did enable him to invest his vision of cooperation with a powerful moral imperative.

On his leadership skills and beliefs:

Even as a young man, Rockefeller was extremely composed in a crisis. In this respect, he was a natural leader: The more agitated others became, the calmer he grew.

Far more than a technocrat, Rockefeller was an inspirational leader who exerted a magnetic power over workers and especially prized executives with social skills.

Few outsiders knew that one of Rockefeller’s greatest talents was to manage and motivate his diverse associates. As he said, “It is chiefly to my confidence in men and my ability to inspire their confidence in me that I owe my success in life.” He liked to note that Napoleon could not have succeeded without his marshals. Free of an autocratic temperament. Rockefeller was quick to delegate authority and presided lightly, genially, over his empire, exerting his will in unseen ways. At meetings. Rockefeller had a negative capability: The quieter he was, the more forceful his presence seemed, and he played on his mystique the resident genius immune to petty concerns.

Rockefeller placed a premium on internal harmony and tried to reconcile his contending chieftains. A laconic man, he liked to canvass everyone’s opinion before expressing his own and then often crafted a compromise to maintain cohesion. He was always careful to couch his decisions as suggestions or questions.

On philanthropy:

Yet by the 1880s, Rockefeller had already formulated certain core principles for his bequests many of them stemming from beliefs he had long entertained as a businessman. For instance, like other industrialists he worried that charity fostered dependence and pauperized recipients…The most important concept Rockefeller bequeathed to philanthropy was that of wholesale giving, as opposed to small, scattershot contributions…Another cardinal principle of Rockefeller philanthropy was to rely upon expert opinion.

On Standard Oils’, the set of companies he started:

In a sense, John D. Rockefeller simplified life for the authors of antitrust legislation. His career began in the infancy of the industrial boom, when the economy was still raw and unregulated. Since the rules of the game had not yet been encoded into law, Rockefeller and his fellow industrialists had forged them in the heat of combat. With his customary thoroughness, Rockefeller had devised an encyclopedic stock of anti-competitive weapons. Since he had figured out every conceivable way to restrain trade, rig markets, and suppress competition, all reform-minded legislators had to do was study his career to draw up a comprehensive antitrust agenda.

Standard Oil had taught the American public an important but paradoxical lesson: Free markets, if left completely to their own devices, can wind up terribly unfree. Competitive capitalism did not exist in a state of nature but had to be defined or restrained by law. Unfettered markets tended frequently toward monopoly or, at least, toward unhealthy levels of concentration, and government sometimes needed to intervene to ensure the full benefits of competition. This was particularly true in the early stages of industrial development. This notion is now so deeply embedded in our laws that it has become all but invisible to us. replaced by secondary debates over the precise nature or extent of antitrust enforcement.

If Tarbell gave an oversimplified account of Standard Oil’s rise, her indictment was perhaps the more forceful for it. In the trust’s collusion with the railroads, the intricate system of rebates and drawbacks, she found her smoking gun, the irrefutable proof that Rockefeller’s empire was built by devious means. She was at pains to refute Rockefeller’s defense that everybody did it. “Everybody did not do it,” she protested indignantly “In the nature of the offense everybody could not do it. The strong wrested from the railroads the privilege of preying upon the weak, and the railroads never dared give the privilege save under the promise of secrecy.”

The following two excerpts summarize Rockefeller’s life and contributions:

The loftiest encomium to Rockefeller’s impact in this field came from Winston Churchill, who wrote shortly before Rockefeller’s death: When history passes its final verdict on John D. Rockefeller, it may well be that his endowment of research will be recognized as a milestone in the progress of the race. For the first time, science was given its head: longer term experiment on a large scale has been made practicable, and those who undertake it are freed from the shadow of financial disaster. Science today owes as much to the rich men of generosity and discernment as the art of the Renaissance owes to the patronage of Popes and Princes. Of these rich men, John D. Rockefeller is the supreme type.

The fiercest robber baron had turned out to be the foremost philanthropist Rockefeller accelerated the shift from the personal, ad-hoc charity that had traditionally been the province of the rich to something both more powerful and more impersonal. He established the promotion of knowledge, especially scientific knowledge, as a task no less important than giving alms to the poor or building schools, hospitals, and museums. He showed the value of expert opinion, thorough planning, and competent administration in nonprofit work, setting a benchmark for professionalism in the emerging foundation field. By the time Rockefeller died, in fact, so much good had unexpectedly flowered from so much evil that God might even have greeted him on the other side, as the titan had so confidently expected all along.

On a concluding note:

Although Junior moved into Kykuit after Rockefeller’s death, he knew that his father was inimitable, and so he decided to retain the Jr. after his name. As he was often heard to say in later years, “There was only one John D. Rockefeller.”

Attorney Samuel Untermver issued this paean to the elusive witness he had interrogated: “Next to our beloved President, he was our country’s biggest citizen. It was he who visualized as did no other man the use to which great wealth could wisely be put. Because of him the world is a better place in which to live. Blessed be the memory of World Citizen No. 1.”

After reading this book, I can definitely say that the question I had has been answered. A highly recommended read from a historical, humanitarian and business perspectives. If you are looking to learn more about the Oil/Energy side of the story, I strongly recommend reading The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money and Power by Daniel Yergin.

On Reign Of Error

I just finished reading the next book on our reading list, within the Houston Nonfiction Book Club that I am part of, Reign of Error – The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools by Diane Ravitch.

While one might not agree with every argument advanced by the author, your view about the education system will definitely be challenged by this book regardless on your current stance with respect to the public vs. private education debate. This book invoked within me similar feelings of transformation as did Naomi Klein‘s highly recommended, The Shock Doctrine, a few years ago.

The purpose of this book is in essence to answer four questions about education:

First, is American education in crisis? Second, is American education failing and declining? Third, what is the evidence for the reforms now being promoted by the federal government and adopted in many states: Fourth, what should we do to improve our schools and the lives of children?

Diane begins, by setting the background for her work:

In Hollywood films and television documentaries, the battle lines are clearly drawn. Traditional public schools are bad; their supporters are apologists for the unions. Those who advocate for charter schools, virtual schooling, and “school choice” are reformers; their supporters insist they are championing the rights of minorities. They say they are leaders of the civil rights movement of our day. It is a compelling narrative, one that gives us easy villains and ready-made solutions. It appeals to values Americans have traditionally cherished—choice, freedom, optimism, and a latent distrust of government. There is only one problem with this narrative. It is wrong. Public education is not broken. It is not failing or declining. The diagnosis is wrong, and the solutions of the corporate reformers are wrong. Our urban schools are in trouble because of concentrated poverty and racial segregation. But public education as such is not “broken.” Public education is in a crisis only so far as society is and only so far as this new narrative of crisis has destabilized it. The solutions proposed by the self-proclaimed reformers have not worked as promised. They have failed even by their own most highly valued measure, which is test scores. At the same time, the reformers’ solutions have had a destructive impact on education as a whole.

Her premise to advance education is to reverse our current path:

Stop doing the wrong things. Stop promoting competition and choice as answers to the very inequality that was created by competition and choice. Stop the mindless attacks on the education profession. A good society requires both a vibrant private sector and a responsible public sector. We must not permit the public sector to be privatized and eviscerated. In a democracy, important social goals require social collaboration. We must work to establish programs that improve the lives of children and families. To build a strong educational system, we need to build a strong and respected education profession. The federal government and states must develop policies to recruit, support, and retain career educators, both in the classroom and in positions of leadership. If we mean to conquer educational inequity, we must recognize that the root causes of poor academic performance are segregation and poverty, along with inequitably resourced schools. We must act decisively to reduce the causes of inequity. We know what good schools look like, we know what great education consists of. We must bring good schools to every district and neighborhood in our nation. Public education is a basic public responsibility: we must not be persuaded by a false crisis narrative to privatize it. It is time for parents, educators, and other concerned citizens to join together to strengthen our public schools and preserve them for future generations. The future of our democracy depends on it.

The language being used to drive the privatization effort is intentionally misleading:

If the American public understood that reformers want to privatize their public schools and divert their taxes to pay profits to investors, it would be hard to sell the corporate idea of reform. If parents understood that the reformers want to close down their community schools and require them to go shopping for schools, some far from home, that may or may not accept their children, it would be hard to sell the corporate idea of reform. If the American public understood that the very concept of education was being disfigured into a mechanism to apply standardized testing and sort their children into data points on a normal curve, it would be hard to sell the corporate idea of reform. If the American public understood that their children’s teachers will be judged by the same test scores that label their children as worthy or unworthy, it would be hard to sell the corporate idea of reform. If the American public knew how inaccurate and unreliable these methods are, both for children and for teachers, it would be hard to sell the corporate idea of reform. And that is why the reform message must be rebranded to make it palatable to the public.

The movement towards privatization of education is a bi-partisan effort:

Perhaps the most curious development over the three decades from A Nation at Risk to the 2012 report of the Council on Foreign Relations was this: what was originally seen in 1983 as the agenda of the most libertarian Republicans—school choice—had now become the agenda of the establishment, both Republicans and Democrats. Though there was no new evidence to support this agenda and a growing body of evidence against it, the realignment of political forces on the right and the left presented the most serious challenge to the legitimacy and future of public education in our nation’s history.

While there has been an increased focused on more testing and standardization, the quality of education has suffered:

Surely, there is value in structured, disciplined learning, whether in history, literature, mathematics, or science; students need to learn to study and to think; they need the skills and knowledge that are patiently acquired over time. Just as surely, there is value in the activities and projects that encourage innovation. The incessant demand for more testing and standardization advances neither.

Diane then goes on to outline, sixteen claims/fallacies that the reformers have been promoting to advance their privatization agenda, and below I will highlight three of them:

First, the fallacy surrounding high school graduation rates:

CLAIM: The nation has a dropout crisis, and high school graduation rates are falling. REALITY: high school graduation rates are at an all-time high…If college completion is important as an investment in the knowledge and skills of our population (and not just as a credential), then we must encourage and enable students to persist. If we treated education as both an economic good for the ongoing development of our nation and a basic human right, then public higher education would be subsidized by the state and freely available to all who choose to pursue a degree. That’s about as likely to happen as becoming first in the world in degree completion by 2020, but it would move us closer to the latter goal.

Second, the fallacy around the academic challenges in poorer schools are attributable to the ineffectiveness of their teachers:

CLAIM: Poverty is an excuse for ineffective teaching and failing schools. REALITY: Poverty is highly correlated with low academic achievement…The reformers’ belief that fixing schools will fix poverty has no basis in reality, experience, or evidence. It delays the steps necessary to heal our society and help children. And at the same time, it castigates and demoralizes teachers for conditions they did not cause and do not control.

Third, the fallacy that charter schools are the solution to the educational challenges of America:

CLAIM: Charter schools will revolutionize American education by their freedom to innovate and produce dramatically better results.REALITY Charter schools run the gamut from excellent to awful and are, on average, no more innovative or successful than public schools.

Before transitioning from the fallacies, to the solutions, the author reminds us again that poverty is not a problem that education alone can address:

There is no example in which an entire school district eliminated poverty by reforming its schools or by replacing public education with privately managed charters and vouchers. If the root causes of poverty are not addressed, society will remain unchanged. Some poor students will get the chance to go to college, but the vast majority who are impoverished will remain impoverished. The current reform approach is ineffective at eliminating poverty or improving education. It may offer an escape hatch for some poor children, as public schools always have, but it leaves intact the sources of inequality. The current reform approach does not alter the status quo of deep poverty and entrenched inequality…We need broader and deeper thinking. We must decide if we truly want to eliminate poverty and establish equal educational opportunity We must decide if we truly want to build a society with liberty and justice for all. If that is our true purpose, then we need to move on two fronts, changing society and improving schools at the same time.

Diane, then goes on to detail an eleven point action plan, of which I have highlighted six below:

  • Provide good prenatal care for every pregnant woman.
  • Make high-quality early childhood education available to all children.
  • Every school should have a full, balanced. and rich curriculum, including the arts, science, history, literature, civics, geography, foreign languages, mathematics.  and physical education.
  • Reduce class sizes to improve student achievement and behavior.
  • Insist that teachers, principals, and superintendents be professional educators.
  • Devise actionable strategies and specific goals to reduce racial segregation and poverty.

On a concluding note:

Genuine school reform must be built on hope, not fear; on encouragement, not threats; on inspiration, not compulsion; on trust, not carrots and sticks; on belief in the dignity of the human person, not a slavish devotion to data; on support and mutual respect, not a regime of punishment and blame. To be lasting, school reform must rely on collaboration and teamwork among students, parents, teachers, principals and local communities. Despite its faults, the American system of democratically controlled schools has been the mainstay of our communities and the foundation for our nation’s success. We must work together to improve our public schools. We must extend the promise of equal educational opportunity to all the children of our nation. Protecting our public schools against privatization and saving them for future generations of American children is the civil rights issue of our time.

A very highly recommended read.