I just bumped into him again - Theodore Dalrymple. Electronically, that is. We first met in Bodrum, Turkey, last September. His lovely French wife was the first person I got to talk to in the hotel's luscious garden, after I had arrived late and hungry and glad to find myself amongst a crowd of diners. Soon Theodore appeared, back from a buffet prowl, I seem to remember. We were also joined by the historian Professor Norman Stone, formerly of Oxford university, who now teaches at universities in Istanbul and Ankara. With the three of them, I spent a wonderfully convivial evening of a British and a pronounced academic flavour. I would be only too happy to fall into relapse.
A retired prison doctor and psychiatrist, Theodore writes:
I was on my way a few days ago to France via the Eurostar, the train
that goes from the center of London to the center of Paris via the
Channel Tunnel, and bought Le Figaro, the French newspaper of
conservative posture, to read on the way. Its lead story was about the
plans of the French Minister of Justice, Christiane Taubira, to suppress
short prison sentences in favor of such penalties as probation,
community service and the wearing of electronic bracelets, to release
substantial numbers of prisoners before their prison sentences were
completed, to give future prisoners the automatic right of release after
serving two thirds of their prison sentences, and to remove certain
crimes (unspecified) from the penal code. My heart sank; we’ve tried all
that in Britain, with results that only an intellectual with years of
training to prevent him from being able to see what is in front of his
nose would or could find surprising.
The commercial was shot prior to ... see the below news item.
They may have been just a little too eager to jump.
was one of three Icelandic banks that failed at the height of the
global credit crunch, with debts equivalent to more than 10 times
Iceland’s gross domestic product. The country was forced to seek a
multibillion-dollar bail-out from the International Monetary Fund.
“There are people who call government an evil, although a necessary
evil. However, what is needed in order to attain a definite end must not
be called an evil in the moral connotation of the term. It is a means,
but not an evil. Government may even be called the most beneficial of
all earthly institutions as without it no peaceful human cooperation, no
civilization, and no moral life would be possible. In this sense the
apostle declared that ‘the powers that be are ordained of God.’”
(Mises, L. von. 2010 . Omnipotent Government: The Rise of the Total State and Total War. Yale University Press, New Haven.)
There appear to be good theoretical grounds to suppose that the state, especially the modern state, has been a key factor in dramatically reducing violence amongst human beings.
I remember my parents telling me that when we travelled in South Africa (in the 1960s), they had to make sure that the [native black] driver could stay with us, at friends or in the hotel or in some other safe place, as otherwise he was likely to get severely harmed or even killed by members of other tribes. This post may provide an explanation why my parents had to take such precautions.
Also, I hope it will give pause to those who think that it follows immediately from the many defects of the state that the remedy lies in a romantic conception of anarchy, where the state has disappeared and peace services are exclusively provided by individuals and the market. In the sequel to this two-part-post "Prosperity and Violence", I am going to endeavour to show that
in the process of development, the nature of coercion alters. Rather than being privately provided, it instead becomes publicly provisioned. And rather than providing a means for engaging in costly acts of redistribution, it becomes a means for promoting the creation of wealth. (p.50)
Below I try to reconstruct from excerpts some of the narrative - especially on the role of violence in societal development - contained in a great book of only 144 pages: "Prosperity and Violence" by Robert T. Bates. It offers an amazingly incisive and insightful comparison of the paths of development of rich Western societies, on one hand, and countries of the Third World, on the other.
Karl Polanyi refers to the transition from village to city, and from agriculture to industry as "the great transformation [...] (p.20)
As I shall show, kin relations provide insufficient assurance [...] to motivate the formation of the kinds of capital necessary for an industrial society. The assurance kinship provides, moreover, comes at a high cost. Analysis of these costs help us to understand why it is not societies governed by kinship, but rather societies governed by states, that secure the great transformation. (p.22)
Bates goes on to analyse two vital aspects of development:
[...] the decision to form capital and the formation of institutions that render it rational to do so. (p.22)
In agrarian societies, families organize production, consumption, and the accumulation of wealth [...] They also manage power. Not only daily life but also affairs of state flow through the networks spun by birth, marriage, and descent.(p.30)
However, people in pre-industrial societies
[...] cannot shed risk by transacting in markets. Instead, they must directly bear the costs of uncertainty; they must self-insure. Two of the most obvious ways in which they do so is by making "conservative" decisions and by "failing to specialize. (p.38)
[T]hey grow crops that while offering a smaller harvest, nonetheless offer one that is more certain [... They] remain subsistence producers. They are reluctant to plant pure stands of maize or wheat or to specialize in cash crops. [...] The costs in terms of the diminution of income yield, however, the benefit of increased security. It secures the the peace of mind that comes from decreased risk in the face of a hostile nature. [...] That property rights inhere in families, rather than in individuals, renders families a means of insurance. [...] [M]embers [of the highly extended and geographically diversified family] can exercise the right to a share of the property of other relatives to ensure themselves against risk. [...] The dispersed location of the family estate yields a diversified portfolio of income-generating assets, thus reducing the level of risk. (p.41)
By the same token:
Just as families and kin groups self-insure against the risks of nature, so too do they self-insure against risks arising from the conduct of other human beings. Further constraining the economic performance of kinship societies is the nature of their political institutions. While offering a means for protecting property, the private provision of security by family and kin [...] also limits the accumulation of wealth. (p.42)
For deterrence to work, the threat of revenge must be credible. This system of governance requires, then, that men are warriors, capable of inflicting harm; it also requires that they be willing to retaliate, and be known to be willing to do so. (p.45)
There is a number of cultural practices that reinforce a sufficiently violent attitude:
In societies where families arm themselves and provide their own protection, military prowess lies embebbed in codes of honor, from which it derives credibility as a deterrent. (p.46)
Absent a reputation for being willing to fight, a person becomes vulnerable. Not only might his enemies view him as prey, but also his family and friends will scorn him, since their safety depends upon the support than can be expected from others. The incentives to fight thus run deep and once concord is lost, cycles of retaliation ensue. (p.47)
To be sure:
Private violence can work; it can produce peace, But the peace it produces is fragile. Once triggered, the system inflicts costs that mount over time: families span generations, and the wrongs of one generation cast a curse on the lives of those who succeed them.
To avoid the costs of private violence, people seek ways of insuring that retaliation will not be troggered. In so doing, they expose another defect of the private provision of security: in the face of the costs of the system, people may seek to increase their welfare by choosing to live in poverty.
Students of village societies emphasize the fear of envy, Others describe how those who become wealthy are subject to accusations of witchcraft and sorcery, In such societies, egalitarianism becomes a strategy in which persons forgo consumption for the sake of peaceful relations with neighbours. To forestall predation, they may simply choose to live without goods worth stealing. In such a setting poverty becomes the price of peace. (p.47)
As kinship societies expand, families inhabit diverse terrains; they trade and, better insured against the risks of nature, they secure economic gains. But the nature of their political institutions imposes important limitations upon their well-being.
The security they supply to the producers and accumulators of wealth is fragile. It lies imbedded [sic] in a culture of provocation. And should threats that support the peace have to be acted upon, then the system produces desolation and grief.
The political institutions of kinship societies impose a cruel trade-off; peace on the one hand and prosperity on the other. (p. 47/48)
The German caption translates into: Get ready for blind flying!! Yet again?
Killing people all over the world has become a sort of half thrilling, half boring pastime for the Western consumer of government propaganda (see also Panem et Circenses).
As a manoeuvre in self-importance, Western governments kill and create havoc in hapless foreign countries, carefully chosen for being the weakest and poorest in the world.
Who would risk, say, his job to safe a few lives in Mali? And if they kill one another, why should we not share in it, at least we bring the right values to the brawl.
The habit is so fashionable nowadays, i.e. politically correct, even the Germans put a toe in the pond.
It is the failure to understand that heavy handed intervention itself
creates new problems has been the central failure of American policy
makers ever since 9/11, witness the debacles in Iraq, Libya, and
Afghanistan. Blowback is the intelligence term used to describe the
development of a new and larger problem due to a military or political
action that is not carefully considered.
In order to avoid making a mistake, Washington inevitably and
automatically magnifies every hiccup internationally into a threat,
mobilizing massive resources that lead to the proverbial flea being
smashed with a sledge hammer. That there is some kind of existential
threat resulting from international terrorism is pretty much a myth.
There are lethal insurgencies and terrorist groups to be sure but most
have strictly local agendas and nearly all are being hunted and hounded
successfully by every police and intelligence agency in the world.
Terrorists ready, willing, and, most important, able to travel to Europe
or the United States and successfully undertake a terrorist action are
few, which means that the United States alone is spending some hundreds
of billions of dollars to counter at most a handful of extremists.
Which brings us to the alleged terrorist threat in Africa in general
and to Mali in particular, which might well be considered a case study
of how non-traditional military engagement driven by interventionist
policies can develop willy-nilly when some bad choices are made. What
kind of terrorist threat does Mali actually represent and how did the
current situation come about?
So far, we've had an exceptionally mild winter in Germany. Now, it looks like we're in for colder weather, from the weekend onward. I wouldn't mind a pattern like last year, when a mild winter was briefly interrupted by three weeks of severe cold and a wonderland of blue sky, ice, and snow.
The first days of the new year stealthily advancing, it'll be February in no time, with Fasching (carnival) arriving early this year. March does not count as winter, to me; it's the month that makes you smell the joyful imminence of spring. The stretch from March to July is the best part of the year, except for the spectacular bloom of autumn. Beautiful as they are, August and September usually hold a slight surplus of melancholy for me. Depriving the world of warmth and light, November and December find me depressed. Winter solstice is an important date that I eagerly await: the days get longer, more light.
Rather on the warm and sunny side, and only two flying hours away, Istanbul, the capitol of Turkey, is at the top of my touristic agenda. However, one does not associate the place with 'kar':
Snow, or "Kar" in Turkish: The eponymous novel by Orhan Pamuk tells a
complex, darkly humorous and politically fraught tale about modern
Turkey. But yesterday it simply covered Pamuk's hometown of Istanbul --
and some intrepid fisherman on the city's Galata Bridge -- in a blanket
of white. A heavy snowstorm on Jan. 8 virtually shut down the commercial
hub, disrupting air traffic and ground transportation in the city of 15
It has been a constant theme, especially in my earlier writing here at RSE, that America is becoming more and more European, i.e. a social democratic country with an overblown welfare state that - largely unrelated to improving the common weal - is the outcome of the unprincipled compulsion (of our form of democracy) to buy votes and other means of maintaining power. In the meantime, I have come to believe that America has turned European a long time ago, at least in a number of rather crucial issues.
At the same time, I have always supported the Americanization of Europe, i.e. the absorption of America's great tradition of liberty by the peoples my side of the pond. Some of it is happening. Thus, I was made aware of the below article by a German liberty-friendly blog that draws heavily on American sources.
The Wall Street Journal has this to report on "a tax increase for everyone but the favoured wealthy few":
In praising Congress's huge new tax increase, President Obama said
Tuesday that "millionaires and billionaires" will finally "pay their
fair share." That is, unless you are a Nascar track owner, a wind-energy
company or the owners of StarKist Tuna, among many others who managed
to get their taxes reduced in Congress's New Year celebration.
There's plenty to lament about the
capital and income tax hikes, but the bill's seedier underside is the
$40 billion or so in tax payoffs to every crony capitalist and special
pleader with a lobbyist worth his million-dollar salary. Congress and
the White House want everyone to ignore this corporate-welfare blowout,
so allow us to shine a light on the merriment.