(August 29, 2005)
[Ed. As a reminder to Letter writers: If you want your letters to be published, you must include your first and last names and your city and state of residence. Thank you.]
Heartfelt Hurrah for Michael Brooks's Living Simply, Simply Living: Thoreau's Message in a Century of Hyper-CapitalismDear Editor:
A quiet but heartfelt "hurrah" for Michael Brooks, who ("Living Simply, Simply Living") reminds us that the more complex and "consumerized" we become in our 2lst century pan-broiler, the more we need Thoreau to set us straight. Apart from the valuable excerpts his piece provided, he could have added the following:
"It is foolish for a man to accumulate material wealth chiefly, houses and land. Our stock in life, our real estate, is that amount of thought which we have had, which we have thought out. The ground we have thus created is forever pasturage for our thoughts."
"In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness. If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them!"
The worst aspect of early 21st century life is that we have trodden down the 19th century truths that people like Thoreau tossed onto our lawns. There is more true revelation in his writings than is to be found in the Bible and it is cruelly ironic that today, it is the Holy Scriptures which have become the Devil's Dictionary, that feeds the ignorance, breeds the miseries and stuffs the body bags.
Santa Monica, California, USA - August 2, 2005
Too pessimistic? Gilles d'Aymery's Srebrenica, Mon AmourTo the Editor:
A little comment about ex-Yugoslavia, if I may.
Your contact's comment in the first paragraph of "Srebrenica, Mon Amour" is much too pessimistic. Viewed from over here in Europe, Serbia is doing quite well. Milosovic and his corrupt gang of ex-communist thugs are gone for ever and Serbia is talking to the EU about joining. That the US corporate media might not present the thing that way does not surprise me, but how many of them have yet dared to call Iraq a "defeat"?
Americans (of all political persuasions!) have a very bad habit of constantly raking over old coals and drawing from them rather "calvinistic" anathemas, which are then hurled at whoever is being criticized. Because your ancestors did something "bad" on 16 June 1622, you are condemned for all time, so to speak!
The world does not work like that. Life is about moving on, and as long as the past is being raked over, as long as people's backs are being put up against the wall over things that happened years ago, that will not happen. The peace necessary for the functioning of civil society and democracy just will not be there. Just look at Northern Ireland, where the fighting dragged on for 30 years and even now, has only ended because people are exhausted. That, I suspect is the logic of Alma Hromic's position. She probably has her own ideas as to who is to blame for the Yugoslav mess, but there is no point whatsoever in putting such ideas forward as a political ideology. Blame is for historians, not politicians.
As a historical analysis, therefore, there is little doubt that Serb nationalism is the underlying cause of the debacle. Right from 1881, the Serbs claimed a hegemonic right to rule over all South Slavs and in particular, to unite all Serbs (defined as Serbo-Croat-speaking Orthodox Christians) in a single state. That is classic late 19th century European linguistic nationalism and the Serbs had no monopoly on it. As a small state up against big empires, they used terrorism, and in their eyes, they won. They got their Serb-dominated Yugoslav state in 1918. One of the many artificial states with artificial borders created at that time, it was condemned to fall apart sooner or later and might even have done so after WWII. It was probably saved by the cold war "deal" which allowed the communists to keep what they had conquered militarily, but to take no more. The repressive nature of the dictatorship kept the lid on things until communism collapsed (although I grant that Tito was one of the least repressive of Europe's regrettably large collection of 20th century dictators!).
At the fall of communism, the wealthy ex-communist elite, who had lived high on the hog on the backs of the working people and who feared a "reckoning," had only one concern: to hang on to as much of their wealth and privileges as possible. In Serbia, Milosovic tried to do that by cynically appealing to the extreme end of Serb nationalism. Unfortunately, like Hitler in Germany, he succeeded, and like Hitler, he brought disaster upon his people. Like in Germany, the solution has been to compensate the victims, try a few of the more prominent leaders and move on. I don't see why that won't work and, indeed, it seems to be working quite well.
The whole thing needs to be seen as just one more in the long list of European tragedies attributable to linguistic nationalism. Serbia fell into the same trap as many others. It is no more guilty than the others, but no more innocent either. Each in our own way, we are all "little Eichmanns"!
I often think that even American dissidents have not grasped the extent to which "Superpower USA" is in terminal decline. The world's concern nowadays is to persuade a terrified psychopath, armed to the teeth and convinced that the whole world is out to kill him, to lay down his arms and go home. Iran's defiance is based on the (well-founded!) belief that the US can do nothing to it that will not alienate the rest of the world. (The UN will never approve nuking it, air strikes will be ineffectual and Iraq proves that the US cannot invade and hold a country against the will of its people.) Because Europe now knows that it has been hoodwinked several times, including over ex-Yugoslavia, it will never again support American military adventures. So it doesn't really matter how the American press presents the story. Europe, including Serbia, is moving on.
Roodt-sur-Syre, Luxembourg - August 8, 2005
Diana Johnstone's "FOOLS' CRUSADE"Dear Mr. d'Aymery,
I am writing you, sir, in a state of total desperation. I have searched the Library of Congress Catalog, in vain, searching for a mention of Diana Johnstone's book, "FOOLS' CRUSADE: Yugoslavia, NATO and Western Delusions."
The reason I find this so terribly distressing is because, during the Bush I administration, I was one of those who demonstrated at (and was beaten by the Capitol Hill Police for doing so) to head off an emasculization of the Library of Congress. The project (spearheaded by Barbara Bush) was to purge the LoC of all books that were "inconvenient" (i.e., in any way opposed the "popularly accepted reality") as well as drastically shorten the LoC reading room hours (which would have excluded many from the use of the LoC, in stark contravention to the founder of the LoC, Thomas Jefferson).
Sir, as the son of a survivor of WWII Croatian Holocaust, I have taken my heritage quite seriously. When, as a 4 year old child, my mother saw something on TV relating to the concentration camps (this was in the early 1950s), she collapsed on the floor and began to howl and I had to craddle her head in my lap, terrified, and assure her that everything would be OK, I was sensitized to an occurrence that predated my existence. While other children were "scared straight" with tales of ghouls and goblins, I was terrified by true tales of the horrors experienced by her and my father during WWII.
After graduating from high school (and, to escape a "free" ride to Southeast Asia), my parents sent me to study in Belgrade. Traveling about Yugoslavia at the time I had numerous opportunities to speak to people who had actually survived the horrors of Nazi occupation and the concentration camps. I went to Kragujevac where, in one day, the Nazis had executed circa 10,000 Serbs for the temerity of the Chetniks to have ambushed a Nazi column and defeated them in the field. When the Nazis cleared Kragujevac, they began with the nursery and elementary schools and thorough gymnasium and post-secondary students. There is a well known instance where an aged teacher accompanied his class to Bubanj (the place of execution), and the Nazis told him he need go no further he said, "I have led them this far, I will accompany them to the end." And he did and was executed with his class.
I have attached an article I have written for your perusal. More importantly, the disaster here is the fact that the Library of Congress has ceased being the "library of record" and has become a repository for "politically correct" literature.
Washington D.C., USA - August 24, 2005
Adam Smith, un-Capitalist? Milo Clark's "Adam Smith is on Our Side"Dear Milo Clark:
Your two articles, "Adam Smith is on Our Side" (14 May 1996) and "Adam Smith is Still on Our Side," in Swans Commentary, are most interesting. I read them both this day and must admit to being fairly excited that an American commentator, for a rare change, had managed to break with the usual nonsense about Adam Smith, what he achieved and for what he should be remembered. Apart from some differences of emphasis, and one of two more serious reservations, I remain convinced that you are on the right track. Before giving a final view on your approach to Adam Smith I should read more of your commentaries in Swans; understanding what you mean by "our side," for instance, would be helpful. Let me comment on some of less important aspects, from a critical point of view, in your articles and about which you could clarify for me where appropriate. "Adam Smith understood in context, grokked, says that the moral community, civil society, works best when local resources are converted locally by local people primarily for local use in ways which generate surpluses for local reinvestment." Apologies, but I am not sure what "grokked" means. I am also not sure why you conclude that Smith suggests that "locally" produced resources are "best" for society, etc. He certainly had in mind local markets or street fairs in many of his examples as these were the dominant form of markets in mid-18th century Britain (particularly in Scotland). But he also was well aware of the progression of production for "distant sale" and how this raised what we call living standards (the real wage) and general "opulence." Wealth of Nations is about, well, the wealth of nations, not local markets. His critique of mercantile political economy (he did not use the word "mercantilism") was precisely about the barriers put up by local producers ("merchants and manufacturers") against the movement into the locality of producers and produce, against which they conspired to raise prices and protect local excess profits above their natural rates. "With the importance attached to Adam Smith (1723-1790) as a founding father, if you will, of economics as a 'science' (not accurate, by the way) and his imputed role in conceptualizing Capitalism, . . ." I completely agree with your approach here. Economics had some ways to go before it became a "science" (David Ricardo and others, who deduced economic principles from axioms, not observations, reaching its final form with neo-classical economists from Marshall, and others. The current obsession with mathematical analysis has changed economics into a branch of applied mathematics. Smith certainly did not conceptualise "capitalism," a word he never used nor a phenomenon he was aware of. The first use of the word "capitalist" was in 1793 (Smith died in 1790) and the first uses of the word "capitalism" were after 1858. The political economy that Smith wrote about was characterised by small amounts of "stock," held by small traders and tradesmen primarily. Large capitals were the exception until the turn of the century. Smith criticised the main instrument of capitalism, the Joint Stock Company, unaware of how important it would become as an organisational form in the 19th century until today.
"At Glasgow University, he was first appointed to the chair of Logic in 1751 and succeeded to the chair of Moral Philosophy in 1752 until he left in 1763." Here and below you seem to infer that Smith abandoned the subject of logic as if he ever meant to teach it in the manner by which it was taught in Scottish universities. The facts are different and are fully outlined in my Adam Smith's Lost Legacy (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005, Chapters 5-7). It was not uncommon for ambitious academics in Smith's day to take the first opening that they could in a university, whatever the subject, as vacancies were rare and if they waited until the chair they wanted became vacant it might easily be taken by an internal transfer rather than by open competition. For example, Adam Ferguson, Smith's contemporary, became a professor first of Natural Philosophy at the University of Edinburgh, for which he was not qualified at all, and later moved to the Moral Philosophy chair; hence Smith taking the Chair of Logic, while he had the support of the powerful political figure, the Duke of Argyle, was perfectly sensible, placing himself in prime position for a chair in moral philosophy as it became vacant some months later. So distant was Smith from Logic as a subject, he abandoned much of the traditional logic syllabus and taught instead the Rhetoric and Belles Lettres subjects from his unofficial Edinburgh Lectures, 1748-50.
"He spent considerable time in pre-revolutionary France during 1764-1766 where he was evidently influenced by Physiocrats, followers of Jean Claude Marie Vincent de Gournay (1712-1759), whose motto was laissez faire, laissez passer which, for them, involved customs problems." Two years in France as travelling tutor to the young Duke of Buccleuch hardly warrants the description "considerable," but of greater import is the link you make between Adam Smith and laissez faire, laissez passez, via the Physiocrats. Your association of Smith with laissez faire and laissez passez is controversial. It is the norm in US academe -- and popular commentary -- to associate Smith in this manner, yet two serious obstacles stand in the way. First, Smith never used the words laissez faire, though as you point out, he was familiar with them from his readings of and conversations with the Physiocrats. Second, he never advocated a system-wide application of laissez faire policies. Indeed, his suspicions of the motives and behaviours of merchants and manufacturers throughout Wealth of Nations, whenever they were left free to do whatever they wished, is a major constant in his book. He regarded them as conspiratorial, monopolising and self-interested in making profits at the expense of consumers and stated that they needed to be watched very carefully when proposing anything regarding their interests. He certainly opposed legislation in their favour and regarded free competition as the antidote to their nefarious ways. How laissez faire became the received doctrine taught in universities and melded with Adam Smith is a most interesting subject, especially as it was -- and its modern applications often are -- contrary to Smith's advice. Your quotations from Schneider's book and your connection of Wealth of Nations to Moral Sentiments suggest you are part way there to seeing this as contrary in respect of the alleged foundation of Smithian economics on self-interest. "In those villages everyone knew everyone else. Trade was simple and bartering was common. Trades tended to follow families for generations running. Therefore one was, in later economic terms, likely to be a fully informed buyer and seller in an 'economy' characterized by free choice among relative equals. This was probably even then a pastoral fantasy." I think Smith had moved on from the local markets you describe. He saw these local markets as the signs of the revival of the Age of Commerce, destroyed by the fall of the Roman Empire, that had been evolving all over western Europe in the 17th-18th centuries. Smith in many senses was a classicist, still emotionally living in the classical period (see Gloria Vivenza, Adam Smith and the Classics: the classical heritage in Adam Smith's Thought, Oxford University Press, 2001). The country-town relationship was changing the economy from local, limited trade to the exchange of manufactured goods for agricultural produce, to improvements in agriculture and the introduction of new traded items for distant sale. The "pastoral fantasy" was already evolving into national and international trade, albeit at a still limited level. Smith saw the wealth of nations as the most recent product of this process. "Therefore, it is quite likely that Rousseau, Hume and Smith were together for more than social reasons." I know of no evidence that Smith, Hume and Rousseau met together during their overlapped times in Britain. "He is sufficiently motivated by the radical ideas of the French Physiocrats to spend three years in France before returning to inner circles of the Scottish Enlightenment where he openly consorted with people and ideas underlying social change movements and then revolutions against established authority throughout Europe, in France and overseas in the British Colonies. It may testify to the temper of the times that he and his cohorts were not tried for high treason!"
Smith was dead (1790) when the French Revolution broke out in earnest. The revolutionary Terror in 1793 energised the British Establishment into becoming high repressive. While Smith could not be reached his known supporter, Dugald Stewart, his first biographer (1793), was interviewed by the judiciary and was for sometime apprehensive that a case might be made for judicial proceedings against him and others for Smith's alleged role in instigating disorder though Wealth of Nations (its comments on the poor treatment of common labourers, for instance and his known views of the rights of the American colonists). That charges of treason could be contemplated suggests that the "temper of the times" is not so lily white as you suggest. Smith's unhidden connections as a regular correspondent with Condorcet, a leading French radical, were used in evidence to force Stewart to recant (see Rothschild, Emma, Economic Sentiments: Adam Smith, Condorcet, and the Scottish Enlightenment, Harvard 2002). Incidentally, a possible explanation of Smith's early retirement in 1778, when he had many years in front of him to complete his promised Works on "Jurisprudence" and the Philosophical Method, might possibly be found in the embarrassing success of the American Revolution against George III. Smith's views are well known in Wealth of Nations (1776) and his views on jurisprudence and constitutional government are expressed in his "lost" lectures at Glasgow 1752-64, which were found in the late 19th century in the form of students' notes (published first by Edwin Cannan and later by the University of Glasgow via Oxford University Press, 1978). I discuss this in Chapter 31 of Lost Legacy cited above. Very briefly, Smith's whole adult life was dedicated to persuading leading figures in commerce, politics, and the court, to focus on the generation of the wealth of nations and on the decent moral society. He did not seek controversy -- he avoided it in all matters, such as religion and public controversies that affected the King and social stability. How then could he publish a book on jurisprudence and the best way to govern in the UK with the example of the US Constitution as an inevitable case study? If he applauded the US revolution he would insult the King; if he denounced it he would betray his republican principles (his principles could be reconciled with the semi-democratic UK constitution -- and an impotent constitutional monarchy). He avoided the problem by seeking and receiving the post of Commissioner for Customs in Edinburgh, which made him "too busy" to research and write, and he kept the pretence going that he was doing both virtually until he died. He certainly did not need the money. However, Milo, I am sure you are tired of reading my comments (assuming you got this far). I will not develop what you say about Smith's labour theory of value (you are broadly correct) but will leave that perhaps until another time. I am writing a new book on Adam Smith for Palgrave's Great Thinkers in Economics series and my views on Smith's labour theory of value is contained within that manuscript (still being written). If you have time, visit my web site: adamsmithslostlegacy.com. I would be interested in your comments. I think we are quite close on most issues relating to Adam Smith. You are more correct than most commentators about Adam Smith.
Emeritus Professor, Edinburgh Business School, Heriot-Watt University
Edinburgh, Scotland, UK - August 1, 2005
[Prof. Kennedy is the author of Adam Smith's Lost Legacy, Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.]
Milo Clark responds:
The profound dishonesty and racism of the US "War on Terror."Dear Sir,
Our horror at the senseless and evil killing of so many innocent people in London should reinforce our objection to all terrorism whether by jihadists or the US political-military-industrial complex. Decent people should be interested in the following statistics that demonstrate the profound dishonesty and racism of the US "War on Terror."
The average annual death rate of Australian POWs under the Japanese in World War II was 10.4 per 100 (8,000 deaths out of 22,000 POWs over 3.5 years) [Australian ABC Radio National, 2003].
The annual death rate of under-5 year old infants is 5.8 per 100 in US-occupied Afghanistan and 2.6 per 100 in US-occupied Iraq due to gross Coalition violation of the Geneva Conventions for protection of civilians -- terror indeed for the parents [see latest UN Population Division and UNICEF data].
The average annual death rate of Western civilians from jihadist violence has been 0.00003 per 100 (last 20 years) and 0.0001 per 100 (last 5 years) [mainstream media and official Israeli and US sources].
Current laws and procedures clearly protect Western civilians from evil jihadist terrorism -- but UK-US Coalition war criminals await justice from the International Criminal Court.
The Jury of Conscience of the World Tribunal on Iraq has recently issued its report charging the UK and US with war crimes over the bombing, sanctioning, invasion and occupation of Iraq -- see my summary in MWC News Magazine.
Peace is the only way but we are obliged to inform others about all man-made mass mortality.
Melbourne, Australia - August 1, 2005
Dr. Gideon Polya published some 130 works in a 4 decade scientific career, most recently a huge pharmacological reference text Biochemical Targets of Plant Bioactive Compounds (CRC Press/Taylor & Francis, New York & London, 2003), and is currently writing a book on global mortality -- numerous articles on this matter can be found by a simple Google search for "Gideon Polya" and on his website & his Global Avoidable Mortality blog.
Is Richard Macintosh OK?Dear Gilles,
How are you? I hope you remember me. I wrote a response on courage to one of Richard's articles. His email came back. Is he okay? I know his health was precarious at best. Thank you.
Sandra Ford Walston
Englewood, Colorado, USA - August 3, 2005
The Courage Expert(TM) - walstoncourage.com
[Ed. Richard Macintosh, Swans columnist, friend and counselor, died on June 7, 2005, at St. Joseph's Hospital, Bellingham, Washington, following complications set in after surgery to repair a malfunction of his heart. He was 71. Please see the June 20, 2005 issue of Swans.]
Is Phil Rockstroh OK?Dear Editor,
Where has Phil Rockstroh gone?
I really enjoyed his work.
Squamish B.C., Canada - August 15, 2005
[Ed. Regretfully, upon wishing to multi-post his work on a variety of Web sites, Phil Rockstroh decided to stop contributing to Swans.]
We appreciate and welcome your comments. Please, sign your e-mail with your name AND add your city, state, country, address and phone number. If we publish your opinion we will only include your name, city, state, and country. Send your comments to the Editor. (Letters may be shortened and edited)