Trade, Colonization, South Africa and Apartheid

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 10th, 2013

History 101

Alexander Spread the Advanced Greek Civilization from the Mediterranean to the Indus River Valley

The first civilizations grew up on the great rivers.  The Nile.  The Tigris and Euphrates.  The Indus.  And the Yangtze.  For the river was the source of life.  The flooding of its banks produced the rich black earth that gave us farming.  They helped us irrigate land further from the banks.  And they allowed the spread of civilizations.  For these rivers provided our first means of transporting people and cargo.  Allowing food and goods to travel between settlements.  This cross-pollination of settlements of different people and resources flowered into the great civilizations of the world.

The Chinese civilizations along the Yangtze grew in isolation from the rest of the world due to the geography at first.  Then, later, by choice.  The other three great civilizations came into contact with each other.  The Egyptians on the Nile spread east and made contact with the Sumerians of the Tigris and Euphrates.  Who were in contact with the Harappan of the Indus River valley.  These civilizations traded with each other.  And fought with each other.  As their civilizations flourished they attracted the attention of envious neighbors.  Who wanted what they had.  And conquered them.

Wars pushed boundaries back and forth.  Civilizations rose and fell.  One of the last great empires of the ancient world, the Persian Empire, bumped into a new rising power.  Athens.  Which was conquered by a Greek-trained king from the north in Macedonia.  Whose son, Alexander, went on to conquer the known world.  Spreading the advanced Greek civilization from the Mediterranean world to the Indus River valley.  Creating a Greek-speaking world steeped in science and philosophy.  Creating a greater Hellenistic civilization out of the lands Alexander conquered.  The shared Greek culture allowing an explosion of trade and commerce.

In Time the English and the Dutch would Bump Heads in South Africa

The Romans adopted Greek knowledge and used it for great engineering projects.  Roads, aqueducts, ships, weapons of war, etc.  Soon the Roman Empire displaced the Hellenistic civilization and spread even further.  Ironically, it was the cost of empire that began the fall of the Roman Empire.  High taxes to fund a huge army on the frontier and to pay for a massive bureaucratic state.  Including welfare programs.  The empire first collapsed in the West.  It lasted another 1,000 years in the East as the Byzantine Empire.  With its capital in Constantinople (modern day Istanbul, Turkey).  Named by the Roman Empire Constantine the Great.  Who helped turned the Roman Empire Christian.

Constantinople was the center of the world.  It was where East met West.  Where Europe met Asia.  All trade from the East went through Constantinople on its way to the West.  For the Silk Road passed through Constantinople.  Making it a very rich city.  As it controlled trade.  After the fall of the Western Roman Empire the great Italian city-states rose.  Venice, Milan, Florence, Genoa, Pisa, Siena, Lucca and Cremona.  With their merchant banking they controlled the Mediterranean trade.  Until the Muslims conquered Constantinople.  Which is when the center of economic power moved north to Europe.  Thanks to advances in navigation that allowed ships to sail around Africa to the East.  Bypassing the Muslim-held Constantinople.

It was the Age of Discovery.  And the great European powers discovered new lands full of valuable resources.  The Portuguese and the Spanish lead the way.  And were soon followed by the Dutch.  And the English.  These nations established colonies around the world.  And, in time, the English and the Dutch would bump heads in South Africa.  Where they discovered gold.  Leading to a century of conflict between the British Empire and the Dutch settlers.  Known as Boers.  During the Napoleonic Wars the British defeated the Boers in Cape Colony in 1806.  And officially took possession of the colony in 1814.  Then it was Britain’s turn to send settlers to the region.  As a prosperous colony at the southern tip of Africa would come in handy for the empire that controlled the trade routes with the most powerful navy in the world.

Mandela Languished in Jail in part because of his Being a Communist

The Boers resented British rule.  And they didn’t like their abolishing slavery.  So they moved north.  Establishing two Boer independent republics.  The discovery of diamonds and more gold would make the region the richest and most powerful in southern Africa.  There was only one problem.  They didn’t have the manpower.  Or an industrial base.  Which led to another wave of immigration.  Mostly from Britain.  Which soon outnumbered the Boers.  Tensions led to the two Boer Wars.  The second one being the longest, costliest and bloodiest war the British fought in the century following the Napoleonic Wars.  With the British ultimately winning the African territories from the Boers in 1902.

The contested areas were all absorbed into the British Empire in 1910 as the Union of South Africa.  And became independent of the British Empire in 1931.  As the foreign powers fought over the African lands they pushed aside the native blacks.  And segregated them.  In 1948 the National Party rose to power.  And began to make segregation law.  The official beginning of apartheid.  Where the whites lived in a first-world nation (which they built with their capital along with black labor).  While the blacks lived in third-world conditions.  The African National Congress (ANC) fought apartheid.  Which was good.  But the ANC was a communist organization during the height of the Cold War.  Which did not make it a friend of the Western World.  Nor was Nelson Mandela.  Who was a communist.  Mandela co-founded the militant wing of the ANC in 1961.  Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK).  Which planned a campaign of sabotage against the apartheid government.  Landing Mandela in jail for 27 years.

Mandela languished in jail in part because of his being a communist.  For they didn’t want what happened in Southern Rhodesia to happen in South Africa.  Alignment with the Soviet Union.  And bloody civil war.  This is what they feared if the ANC/MK rose to power under the charismatic Mandela.  Civil war in South Africa fueled by the Soviet Union to aid in their war with the West.  As it turned out, though, Mandela was more like Abraham Lincoln when he emerged from jail.  Who told his generals that once the American Civil War was over there was to be no reprisals or retaliation against the South.  For once the war was over they would move on together as Americans.  Both North and South.  Which made the peace that followed much easier on the South.  Allowing the nation to heal her wounds more quickly than if there had been a period of bloody purges and reprisals.  And this is the gift Mandela gave to South Africa.  Allowing the nation to move forward after apartheid without bloody purges or reprisals.  Which is why South Africa went on to become one of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) economies.  While another former member of the British Empire in Africa, Southern Rhodesia (today’s Zimbabwe), suffers corruption, poverty, human rights abuses and one of the lowest life expectancy in the world.  Because Mandela spoke of peace and reconciliation when released from prison.  Not vengeance.  Like they did in Zimbabwe.

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Hamilton, Jefferson, Republicans, Federalists, Money & Power, Corruption, British, French, Neutral Shipping and Letters of Marque

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 27th, 2012

Politics 101

Hamilton trusted Men of Integrity to Govern Justly while Jefferson believed Money and Power would Corrupt Anyone

Nasty politics began back in the Washington administration.  With the seething hatred between Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson.  These American greats had two different visions for America.  Based on their background.  Hamilton’s from his experience in the Continental Army and his business experience.  Jefferson’s from his books.  As different as their views for America were, and despite their hatred for each other, they both loved their country.  And wanted what was best for their country.  While absolutely sure that the other had nefarious plans for its ruin.

Both were students of the Enlightenment.  Both believed in the natural, God-given rights of the people.  And both believed vehemently in the rule of law.  In fact, both were lawyers.  But Hamilton was part of the Continental Army when its troops were barefoot, half-naked and starving.  Which were barefoot, half-naked and starving because of a weak Continental Congress that could not provide for them.  Because they were weak, impotent and could not levy taxes.  All they could do was ask the states to give them money.  The states promised little.  And delivered even less.  Threatening the American Revolution itself.

Jefferson, on the other hand, saw that history was replete with examples of corruption and oppression whenever financial centers and the seat of power got too close.  Hamilton may have seen this.  But what he was most conscious of was the British Empire.  The greatest empire in the world.  Which became the greatest empire in the world by bringing the financial centers and the seat of power together.  Which is what Hamilton wanted to do.  Trusting in the integrity and moral character of gentlemen of the Enlightenment.  Who would rule with selfless indifference.  Principled men with strong Judeo-Christian values.  These were the men that would rule America.  Men like the Founding Fathers.  Who they could trust with money and power.  Who America should trust with money and power.  To make an American Empire to surpass the British Empire.  This is what Hamilton wanted.  While Jefferson believed that money and power would corrupt anyone.  If not in their generation then surely in the generations to follow.  And the best way to prevent this was by giving government as little money and power as possible.

An Outbreak of Yellow Fever in Philadelphia nearly settled the Quarrel between Hamilton and Jefferson

So Jefferson opposed Hamilton at every opportunity.  Such as the Bank of the United States.  And Hamilton’s funding system.  Making matters worse was that Hamilton’s Treasury Department was the largest department in the federal government.  While Jefferson’s State Department was one of the smallest.  So Jefferson tried to transfer some parts of Treasury to his State Department.  The Post Office.  Which he failed in getting.  But he did succeed in transferring the Mint from Treasury to State.  Hamilton even learned that James Madison and Jefferson met with Robert Livingston and Aaron Burr to conspire against Hamilton to remove him from office.  Hamilton saw an ambitious Jefferson.  Who wanted the kind of power Jefferson accused Hamilton wanted for himself.

So these gentlemen began a campaign to force the other from office.  Hamilton had an ally in the Gazette of the United States who championed his policies.  To counter Jefferson hired Philip Freneau into the State Department to help finance a new paper.  The National Gazette.  Whose sole purpose was to attack Hamilton while praising everything Jeffersonian.  Hamilton wrote anonymous attacks published in the Gazette of the United States.  While Jefferson left his dirty work to Freneau.  And the attacks grew uglier.  The attacks were not just on policy or the future vision of the nation.  But these were personal attacks on each other.  Where accuracy was not a major requirement.  Such as when Hamilton took Jefferson out of context.  Quoting selective excerpts from a 1787 letter to suggest that Jefferson wanted to rob the Dutch to repay the French.  Hamilton and Jefferson became like two quarreling children in Washington’s cabinet.  Each running to ‘father’ tattling on the other.  Insisting that Washington demand the resignation of the other.

An outbreak of yellow fever in Philadelphia nearly settled the question.  By almost killing Hamilton.  But he survived.  Unlike some 4,000 others in Philadelphia.  Even Hamilton’s illness was seen through a political lens.  Hamilton sought the medical advice from an old college buddy.  As opposed to following the good advice of Dr. Benjamin Rush.  Who recommended massive bloodlettings.  When Hamilton recovered he publically thanked his friend (who had nothing to do with his recovery) and encouraged others to follow his recommended treatment.  Which didn’t include bloodletting.  Dr. Rush was infuriated.  Accusing Hamilton of killing countless others through this quackery instead of the sensible bloodletting that was established medical practice.  Of course, this was a personal attack on Dr. Rush.  Because he was not a Federalist.  But a Republican.  And a friend of James Madison and Thomas Jefferson.

While the French were causing Headaches for Jefferson and his Republicans the British were doing the same to Hamilton and his Federalists

The yellow fever also claimed another casualty.  The National Gazette.  As people fled Philadelphia, or died, circulation fell.  And the paper lost money and closed shop.  About the same time that happened Jefferson resigned from the cabinet.  And returned to Monticello.  Things were looking up for Hamilton.  Until the reverberations of the French Revolution further divided the country.  The Federalists were reestablishing trade with the British.  So when the French and British were back at war with each other it caused some problems in America.  For the American people still hated Britain.  While having deep emotional ties to the country that had helped them win their independence.  France.  The United States had proclaimed their neutrality in this new war.  But being a maritime nation dependent on exports her best interests lay with Great Britain and the most powerful navy in the world.  Which further proved that Hamilton and his Federalists were secret monarchists.  And that Hamilton wanted to be king.

Meanwhile, the French had sent their new ambassador to America.  Citizen Genêt.  Who Jefferson, the Republicans and the American people welcomed with open arms.  But then he started issuing letters of marque to American captains to attack and capture British shipping.  Bringing them back to American ports to refit them.  Which was a dangerous thing for a neutral nation to do against the nation that kept the sea lanes safe for their commerce.  Then Citizen Genêt tried to raise an American army to attack the Spanish in Florida and in New Orleans.  With further aims of attacking the British in Canada.  This was too much even for Jefferson.  And it was one of the few times that Jefferson and Hamilton were in agreement.  Citizen Genêt had to go.  For Jefferson he was proving to be an embarrassing liability for the Republicans.

While at the same time the British were retaliating.  Issuing orders to blockade France and to seize any neutral shipping trying to supply France with corn.  Which was pretty much any agricultural grain product.  A major export of the United States.  So this was a direct blow against U.S. commerce.  Even though she was a neutral in this current war between France and Great Britain.  This did not make the American people happy.  Nor did it help Hamilton or his Federalists with their rapprochement with Britain.  Then the British began to seize all shipping going to and from the French West Indies.  Which were mostly American ships.  So while Citizen Genêt was causing great headaches for Jefferson and his Republicans the British were doing the same to Hamilton and his Federalists.  Further dividing the nation.  And bringing them closer to war.  In large part due to the politics dividing the nation.

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Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Silas Deane, Arthur Lee, John Jay, Mississippi River and Dutch Treaty of Commerce and Friendship

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 17th, 2012

Politics 101

Franklin spent a Great Deal of Time in France during the Revolution enjoying Social Gatherings and Social Drinking

People are disgusted by politics today.  Negative campaigns.  Personal attacks.  Special interests.  People using their public office for personal gain.  Scandals.  Intrigue.  It’s enough to turn anyone off of politics.  Forever.  For it seems like no matter what the politicians say nothing ever changes.  And you know what?  They haven’t changed.  For even before there was a United States of America this stuff was going on.  Even threatening the success of the American Revolutionary War.

George Washington is criticized for many things.  For owning slaves (which he released and trained to enter the workforce as free men in his will).  That he wasn’t a great general.  For he did lose more battles than he won.  But even his critics have to give him this at least.  He was a man of honor.  With impeccable integrity.  His men respected him.  His officers respected him.  His enemies respected him.  One of Britain’s last attempts of treachery was to try and bribe Washington to defect to the British side.  Where he could live out his life very comfortably.  Knowing the Americans would give up without him.  But he did not waiver.  Resolute to the end.  The indispensable one.  The Father of our Country. 

Sadly, though, there weren’t many indispensable ones.  And few that matched Washington’s stature.  Perhaps the one coming closest was Benjamin Franklin.  Our most respected diplomat.  Who played a large part in gaining French support for the American cause.  Franklin spent a great deal of time in France during the Revolution.  The French loved him.  And he loved his time there.  Perhaps a little too much.  Staying up late.  Getting up late.  Enjoying social gatherings.  And social drinking.  Something that John Adams couldn’t stand.  Who was very religious.  And all-business.  About as different from Franklin as you could get.  But the French liked Franklin.  And did not like Adams.  Because he was all-business.  And a bit insufferable.

It didn’t take a Genius to know that the Americans Planned on Moving West to the Mississippi River and Beyond

France was America’s most important ally during the war.  And technically speaking their only ally.  There were many foreigners who sought a commission in the American army.  But that was more for glory and fame than support of the cause.  France, though, entered into treaty with the independent United States.  And supplied a large part of the war effort in both money and arms.  Granted this was more to get back at their archenemy, the British, than it was to help the Americans.  But the love and respect for Franklin was real.

Franklin was a self-made man living his third life.  He was a small business owner and writer.  He was a scientist.  And now he was a diplomat.  He had little to prove.  And needed no money.  All he wanted was to enjoy what life he had left.  And champion the American cause.  Not so with his co-emissary Arthur Lee.  Whose interests centered more on Arthur Lee than the American cause.  He didn’t like Franklin because the French liked and respected him more.  And he didn’t like America’s other emissary, Silas Deane, who was in France before Franklin and Lee joined him.  And who the French liked and respected, too.  Which really annoyed him because the French didn’t like him at all.  In fact they thought Lee liked England just a little too much.  For he had a brother in England.  Which didn’t go over well with the French.  Despite his having two brothers in the Continental Congress you just didn’t know where his allegiance lay.  Lee aggressively tried to disgrace both Deane and Franklin to make his star shine brighter.  Franklin’s character was impeccable, though.  No one believed anything he said about Franklin.  But, alas, they did about poor Deane.  At least enough to recall him to Congress.  The French, though, respected Deane enough to give him safe passage back on a French warship with the new French minister to America.  This whole episode did little to impress upon the French the professional stature of American diplomacy.   Nor did it impress the other European courts.  America just wasn’t being taken seriously in Europe.

Except, perhaps, in Spain.  John Jay went to Madrid to get Spanish recognition.  And Spanish aid.  Getting little of either.  Spain entered the conflict.  As an ally to France, though.  Because they, too, hated the British.  And they used this opportunity to get Gibraltar back from the British.  (They didn’t.)  Other than that they had little interest in helping the Americans.  For they didn’t trust the Americans.  France may have lost all of their North American possessions to the British but they hadn’t.  They still had the Louisiana Territory.  Western Florida.  The land from the Texas Gulf coast to California.  As well as the port of New Orleans.  And control of the lower Mississippi River.  Which the Americans wanted navigation rights on.  And god knows what else.  For it was no secret that the Americans wanted to expand west.  That’s why they wanted the Ohio country.  And the Ohio River flowed into the Mississippi River.  It didn’t take a genius to know what that meant.  The Americans planned on moving west to the Mississippi River.  And beyond.  Using the Mississippi to ship all of their goods from the interior of the country to the Port of New Orleans.  And on to the world.  All they needed to do was to remove one last obstacle.  The Spanish.  And the Spanish grew weary of John Jay.  Who only wanted two things.  To get Spain to recognize their independence.  And for Spain to give them money.  Suffice it to say the Spanish did not enter into an alliance with the United States.  And gave little money.

Catherine the Great’s League of Armed Neutrality isolated Britain and helped Adams in the Netherlands

Meanwhile John Adams, having annoyed the French, headed to the Netherlands.  And was more successful.  Not so much because they supported the American cause but because of their commerce.  The Dutch and the British had been bitter rivals.  The Dutch East (and West) India Company.  The English East India Company.  They both wanted what the other had.  Commerce.  They would actually go to war over this trade.  Some 4 times.  And now the British were interfering with their trade once again.  Interfering with their lucrative black market trade from the Dutch West Indies to the United States.  Through the British blockade.  Which may have broken a treaty they had with the British.  So Adams found commercial incentive for Dutch support.  But what he didn’t find was Dutch respect for the American cause.  And a general ignorance of the American cause.  There was just little information about the United States in the Netherlands.

They did see a rising commercial power in the U.S.  That would have a lot of food and materials to ship.  And being good businessmen they wanted a piece of that action.  And they certainly didn’t want to see the French and Spanish monopolize that trade.  Which could happen based on the treaty between France and America.  And the treaty between France and Spain.  Of course if they backed the wrong horse that could hurt them in post-war relations with Britain.  Should Britain win.  But neither was it in their best interests for Britain to win.  For that would only make their greatest rival stronger.  But what if the Americans won with the help of the Franco-Spanish alliance?  Would the Americans keep their independence?  Or would they get absorbed into France and/or Spain?  That wouldn’t be good.  For it wasn’t that long ago that they won their independence from Spain.  So making Spain stronger and/or richer wasn’t high in their to-do list. 

Catherine the Great of Russia finally helped push the issue.  Indirectly.  To keep the seas free and to protect neutral nations she organized a League of Armed Neutrality of which the Netherlands was signatory.  Neutral nations wanted no part of Britain’s war with America.  And they didn’t want it to interfere with their trade on the high seas.  Even if that trade favored the Americans somehow more than the British.  So if the British fired upon a neutral engaging in trade the British did not approve of these neutrals would fire back.  Thus isolating Britain.  And shortly thereafter Adams negotiated a couple of loans.  Got recognition as the minister representing the United States of America.  And as one of his first duties in that capacity he signed a treaty of commerce and friendship.  He may not have had the stature of a Washington or a Franklin but he had the same dedication to the cause.  And refused to quit.  He was successful.  But few other American diplomatic missions were.  And they probably caused more harm than good.  The antics of a few bringing ridicule to the new nation.  Franklin in fact did not approve of this ‘cold calling’ on countries for recognition and aid.  Perhaps explaining his laid back ways in France that so irritated Adams.  “A virgin state,” Franklin said, “should preserve its virgin character, and not go about suitoring for alliances, but wait with decent virgin dignity for the application of others.”  It seemed to do wonders for him.  And the nation.

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Religion

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 14th, 2011

Economics 101

Living Together in Large Cities goes against a Million Years or so of Evolution

Agriculture advances gave us food surpluses.  Food surpluses gave us a division of labor.  The division of labor gave us trade.  Money made that trade more efficient.  By reducing high search costs inherent in the barter system.  And this efficient trade gave us advanced civilizations.  For these developments allowed great gatherings of people to live together in urban settings.  Well, these things, and something else.

For a million years or so man was a hunting and gathering species.  Which meant they traveled in small groups.  And followed food.  Why small groups?  Fewer mouths to feed.  Remember, hunters and gatherers need a lot of land to survive.  Because food wasn’t so plentiful in any one area.  And the last thing they wanted when they found food was to share it.  So when they weren’t killing their food they were killing those trying to take their food.  Which was the key to survival.  For he who eats today shall live to see tomorrow.  When the Europeans settled North America the Native Americans were still hunters and gatherers.  And they were a martial people.  Fierce warriors populated their tribes.  Why?  To protect tribal hunting grounds.  By killing any interlopers.  And they were doing this long before the Europeans set foot onto the continent.

So living together in large cities goes against a million years or so of evolution.  Which is why it didn’t happen overnight.  The transition from hunting and gathering to farming.  Before we could work together we had to learn to live together first.  And it all started with thinking.

Religion allowed People to Live Together like Family who were not Family

As we thought and developed better tools and better ways to farm we started thinking about something else, too.  Why are we here?  Who created ‘here’?  Why did the creator create ‘here’?  And what happens when we leave ‘here’?  After we die?  To answer these questions we developed religion.  And it brought us together as a people.

This is truly what separated us from the animals.  Because animals can use tools.  A bird can hold a stick in its beak to probe a hole for food.  But birds don’t worship.  They don’t have faith.  Only man does.  Because we started thinking about other things.  To see the bigger picture.  To understand this life.  And the next life.  Spiritually.  And this was the key to allowing great gatherings of people to live together in urban settings.  Religion allowed people to live together like family.  Who were not family.  Because we shared a common faith.  A religion.

Man was still cruel, though.  We spent a million years or so being cruel.  And that capacity to be cruel just didn’t go away.  But religion softened us.  It began a process to soothe the savage breast.  It allowed us to see something in people that wasn’t threatening.  And it allowed civilization to flourish.  Despite our cruelties.  Which were now reserved for those outside our own civilization.  Our enemies.  Heretics.  Especially those who attacked us.  And it was on these people, those who did not share our common faith, that we unleashed that repressed cruelty.

Religion Allowed us to Live in Crowded, Urban Cities Creating Commerce and Trade

A lot of atrocities have been committed in the name of religion.  This is true.  But sharing a common faith united us like nothing else could.  For our faith was bigger than us.  We learned to live by moral codes.  We worked together.  Voluntarily.  For the betterment of the cities we lived in.  And to serve our god(s).  In cities that priest-kings typically ruled over.  Guided by our religious beliefs.

Everything we did was for that spiritual journey.  Working hard in this life.  All the while preparing for the afterlife.  Bringing the people of a common faith together.  We became so close to each other that for the first time in history we could live in crowded, urban cities.  Creating commerce and trade.  In an advanced civilization.  None of which would have been possible if religion hadn’t softened up that cruelty within.  Instilled in us for the past million or so years.

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LESSONS LEARNED #32: “America is great but it can’t make bad ideology good.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 23rd, 2010

Hamilton vs. Jefferson

So what was the deal with these two Founding Fathers?  Why did they hate each other so?  They were exceptionally bright, among the best read of the founders.  They each had impeccable revolutionary credentials.  And, prior to 1787, they had similar visions for their new country.  So what happened?

Despite their similarities, they were two very different men.  Hamilton was a bastard child whose father left him at a young age.  His life was hard.  He had a job while still a child.  Anything he had he had to earn.  Jefferson, on the other hand, was born into the planter elite of Virginia.  His life was not quite so hard. 

A bit shy, Jefferson buried himself in books.  He loved to read.  And to think.  To ponder the great questions of life.  While Hamilton worked in and learned the import/export business in the Caribbean.  As Jefferson pondered about what might be, Hamilton mastered commerce.  Understood capitalism.  Pondered what was.  And could be.  If he ever got off of that godforsaken island.

Eventually, he did.  He came to the colonies and went to college.  And gave Jefferson a run for his money in the smarts department.  And in one area, he simply left Jefferson in the dust.  Hamilton could understand things if you put dollar signs in front of them.  Jefferson could not.  For all his genius, Jefferson couldn’t make a buck.  He was forever in debt.  Because he struggled in these areas, he distrusted banking and commerce.  And the big cities that they corrupt.  Hamilton, though, understood banking and commerce.  He understood capitalism.  And what it could do.

Thus the divide between these two men.  Hamilton, a champion of capitalism.  And Jefferson, a champion of the yeoman farmer (a farmer who owns and works his own land.).  Of course, Jefferson was anything but a yeoman farmer.  He had others (i.e., slaves) work his land.  Here he was like the contemporary liberal.  Do as I say.  Not as I do.  For wealth and luxury obtained from the labors of others is okay for me and my fellow planter elite.  But not for you.  Especially when the ‘black arts’ of commerce and banking are concerned.

London, Paris/ Versailles and Madrid

The old world capitals had many things in common.  They were the homes of powerful monarchies.  They were the financial capitals of their countries.  And they caused a lot of mischief in the world.  Jefferson saw the connection between money and power.  More money, more power.  More power, more mischief.  Another good reason to hate commerce and banking in Jefferson’s book.

Of course, Hamilton saw it differently.  He saw one empire in ascent.  And two in descent.  And it was no coincidence that the better practitioner of capitalism was also the empire in ascent.  Great Britain.  He may have fought against her in the Revolutionary War, but he still admired her.  Where Jefferson feared the combination of money and power, Hamilton saw the Royal Navy.  Great wooden walls (as John Adams called them) that had protected the empire since she became an empire.  Grew her empire.  Increased her wealth.  And her power.  In fact, losing her British colonies was the only real defeat this empire had suffered.

When the Founding Fathers looked west they saw great potential.  Jefferson saw farms.  Hamilton saw empire.  One greater than Great Britain.  For after all, the Americans did what no other European nation could.  They defeated her in war and took huge chunks of her empire.  (Of course, our Revolutionary War was but one theater in a world war Great Britain was fighting at that time.)  Hamilton saw great potential for his new nation.  If only business and government partnered to harness that great potential.

Money + Power = Corruption

When business partners with government we don’t get capitalism.  We get mercantilism.  Or crony capitalism.  But you have to understand things were different in Hamilton’s day.  A good politician then went to great lengths NOT to profit from his time in public service.  It was expected.  Selfless disinterest.  In fact, it was unseemly to even campaign for public office.  That was just something a gentleman of the Enlightenment wouldn’t do.  And if anything was important in those days, it was showing how much a gentleman of the Enlightenment you were.

That said, business partnering with government would NOT lead to corruption.  At least, in Hamilton’s eyes.  With the right men in power, only good would result.  Though Jefferson, too, was a gentleman of the Enlightenment, he had no such faith in government.  To him, it was simple arithmetic (as long as there were no dollar signs involved):

                Money + Power = Corruption

So the new American capital wouldn’t be in a big American city.  Not in New York City.  Not in Philadelphia.  It would be in a swamp.  On the Potomac.  In Virginia’s backyard.  So Jefferson and his planter elite brethren could make sure the new American government would speak with a southern accent.  So much for that enlightened disinterest. 

Both Right.  Both Wrong.

No man is perfect.  Not even me.  No, really.  It’s true.  I’m not.  And neither were Hamilton nor Jefferson.  Hamilton may have wanted to conquer the world.  And Jefferson may have been such a good liar that he even fooled himself.  But the Hamilton treasury department gave this nation international respectability and allowed her to service her debt.  Which allowed her to borrow.  Which allowed her to survive.  And Jefferson fully understood what Lord Acton would say a century later:  Power corrupts.  Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

However benign a government may be, however it may look out after the people’s interests, government is still a body of men.  Jefferson understood this.  The Founding Generation was special.  They knew it.  They knew they were making history.  But were they unique?  Would this moment of selfless disinterest in time prove to be fleeting?  (As it turned out, yes.)  And, if so, what would happen to later generations?  When men of lesser character assume offices of sweeping powers?  What then?  Well, they would abuse their power.  So what to do?

Simple.  You prevent such a scenario from happening.  By not giving government sweeping powers.  And by not letting them accumulate great wealth.  Because bad things happen when you do.

The French Revolution

France was the cradle of the Enlightenment.  In the 18th century, anyone who mattered spoke French.  France was the dominate European power.  And some in France lived very well.  Most did not.  The majority were still feudal peasants.  Or poor laborers, artisans and craftsmen.  And they were hungry.  Poor.  And without breeches (those fancy knee-length pants the rich people wore).

While the sans-culottes (those without breeches) went without, the king, nobles and clergy were living large.  All the wealth of the largest European country was concentrated in their few hands.  As was the power.  And, of course, you add money and power and what do you get?  That’s right.  Corruption.  Add to that some crop failures and you get a very unhappy population.  Who overthrow the monarchy.  Execute their king.  And his queen.  And quite a few others before they stopped the bloodletting. 

Note that France’s troubles were the result of the money combining with the power.  The French monarchy incurred a huge debt fighting their perpetual war (it seemed) with Great Britain.  At the end of the world war that included the American Revolution, both saw those great debts grow larger.  Great Britain, an advanced capitalist nation, was able to service her debt and get on with the business of empire.  France, still fundamentally feudal, could not.  This great nation that had sparked the modern age could not even feed her own people.  She had taken all her people could give.  And her people could give no more.

Beware the Do-Gooder

The downfall of most nations results from this combination of money and state power.  This is an ideology that history has proven a failure.  The more money the state accumulates, the more it can do.  And the less you can do.  You go with less.  And the state causes greater hardships for everyone.  It can go to war.  Which it can lose.  Or prolong.  Hitler started out strong but the German people paid a steep price in the long run.  The allied bombers destroyed their homes.  And killed their families and neighbors.  While the allied armies killed their husbands, fathers, brothers and sons.  And those Germans who unfortunately fell within Soviet controlled territory after the war faced possible retribution for the crimes their husbands, fathers, brothers and sons committed against the soviet people.  In that hell on earth know as the Eastern Front.

But war is not the only mischief a state can do.  They can build opulent palaces (like at Versailles).  Or they can create a welfare state.  Where they get as many people as possible dependent on the state.  And the more they do, the more wealth the state transfers from the private sector to the public sector.  The state does well.  Especially the inner-party members.  The few who control the wealth.  And what happens in the long run?  The state gets richer and the people get poorer.  Just like they did in pre-revolutionary France.  In pre-revolutionary Tsarist Russia.  And, ironically, the state that replaced Tsarist Russia; the Soviet Union.  Communist China.  Cuba.  North Korea.  Peron’s Argentina.  Idi Amin’s Uganda.  Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.  Etc.

Whenever the government has large amounts of money and power, they rarely do good things.  What typically happens is that the ruling elite live well while the masses suffer.  And they use fear, intimidation, torture and execution to maintain their power.  What a nation chooses depends on how much they care what the free world thinks of them.  The Communists cared little so they used more brutal force.  Social democracies do care.  So theirs is a much softer tyranny.  These people don’t use force.  They seduce with promises of free stuff and a better life.  Which they never deliver.  Well, not to the people.  They do deliver it to those who hold power.

You Get What You Pay For

It’s bad when we don’t learn from world history.  It’s especially sad when we don’t learn from our own history.  We know what works.  And what hasn’t.  Wilson’s progressivism didn’t work.  FDR’s New Deal didn’t work.  LBJ’s Great Society didn’t work.  These administrations just transferred more money from the private sector to the public sector.  Money plus power equals corruption.  And these administrations were rife with corruption.  When we suffered the stagflation of the 1970s, those in power were still living large. But we never learn, do we?

The Obama administration is transferring more money from the private sector to the public sector than any other previous administration.  Our national debt will exceed our gross national product (GDP).  For all intents and purposes, it will be permanent.  All subsequent generations will work more and more just to service this massive debt.  And pay for all that ‘free stuff’ we were promised.  Sure, we’ll have free health care.  It just won’t be any good.  Nothing free is.  The free toy in a box of cereal is never as good as the toy you pay for.  Because you get what you pay for.  And if the government is going to give everyone free health care, it will have to be ‘free toy inside a cereal box’ quality health care.  For the same reason they don’t put expensive toys in cereal boxes.  If you give something to everyone, you have to give everyone less.  It’s the only way you can afford to give something to everyone.  You have to give everyone crap.

These things have never worked.  Nor will they.  Ever.  Even if the United States does them.  Because bad ideology is just bad ideology.  No matter how great the nation is that tries it. 

www.PITHOCRATES.com

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FUNDAMENTAL TRUTH #11: “Before you condemn capitalism, imagine a world without professional sports, movies, cell phones and tampons.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 27th, 2010

PEOPLE HAVE SOME strong opinions about capitalism.  Both good and bad.  So what is it?  What is capitalism?

Merriman Webster OnLine defines it as:

An economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market.

To explain this let’s start by explaining what it replaced.  In fact, let’s go further back.  A few hundred years when life truly sucked by our standards.  During the Middle Ages, people barely lived.  People worked very hard and had little time off.  When they did they usually spent it sleeping, being sick, dying or being dead.  You grew or killed what you ate.  You built your own house.  You made your own clothes.  You died probably no further than a short walk from where you were born.  And you worked your whole life somewhere in between.

Think of peasant or serf.  That’s what most were.  Tied to the land.  You had no choices.  If you were born on the land you worked the land.  Until you died.  The land owned you and someone owned the land.  You worked the land at the grace of the owner.  You helped produce his food and, in return, he let you have a small parcel of land to grow your food.  There was a bond of loyalty between landlord and tenant.  Land and protection in exchange for backbreaking, never-ending labor.  Doesn’t sound good until you consider the alternative.  Death by famine.  Or death by murder at the hands of roving bands of outlaws.

Improvements in farming led to more food production.  Eventually, there were food surpluses.  This meant not everyone had to farm.  Some could do other things.  And did.  They became specialists.  Artisans.  Craftsmen.  Cities grew in response to commerce.  People went to market to trade for things they wanted.  Then they started using money, which made getting the things they wanted easier (it’s easier to go to the market with a coin purse than with a sack of grain or a side of beef).  Life got better.  People enjoyed some of it.

THUS BEGAN THE rise of a middle class.  Those city folk making things or doing something.  They were good at what they did and people gladly paid for what they did.  These specialists then improved what they did and thought of new things to do.  They created things to make their work easier.  These individual specialists grew into manufacturing shops.  The cost of production only limited their output.  And banking solved that problem.

Alexander Hamilton, one of America’s Founding Fathers, was a capitalist.  And he thought big.  Money is nice but what can it get you?  A few things for the home?  Something for the wife?  Maybe some new farm tools.  Good stuff, yes, but nothing big.  Lots of little sums of money all over the place can buy lots of little things.  But when you pool lots of little sums of money you get one big-ass pile of it.  That money is now capital.  And you can do big things with it.

And that’s what banking has given us.  People with ideas, entrepreneurs, could now borrow money to bring their ideas to market.  And this is, in a nutshell, capitalism.  The free flow of ideas and capital to make life better.  Making life better wasn’t necessarily the objective; it’s just the natural consequence of people mutually partaking in a free market.

BUT WHAT ABOUT the Soviet Union?  Didn’t they do big things, too?  They built jetliners.  They had a space program.  They had factories.  They did these and other things without capitalism.  They did these things for the good of the people, not for profits.  Isn’t that better?

Talk to someone who wiped their ass with Soviet-era toilet paper.  Let me save you the trouble.  It didn’t feel good.  Unless you enjoy the feel of sandpaper back there.  And to add insult to injury, you had to wait in line to get that toilet paper.  If it was available.

When you think of the Soviet economy you have to think of stores with empty shelves and warehouses full of stuff no one wants.  This is what a command economy does for you.  Some bureaucrat, not the consumer, determines what to sell.  And one person simply cannot figure out what a hundred million plus want.  To get an idea of how difficult this is, pick a movie that 4 of your friends would love to see.  Pick a couple of guys and a couple of girls.  For diversity.  And remove the possibility of sex completely from the equation.  Now pick.  Not so easy, is it?  Now try to pick a movie a hundred million people would love to see.  Can’t do it, can you?  No one can.  Because people are diverse.  One size doesn’t fit all.

Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev asked Margaret Thatcher how she made sure her people had enough food to eat.  The Soviets were having difficulty feeding theirs.  In fact, they were importing grain from their archenemy.  The United States.  The answer to Gorbachev’s answer was that Thatcher did nothing to feed her people.  The free market fed her people.  Capitalism.

As far as those other big things the Soviets did, they acquired a lot of the knowledge to do those things through an elaborate network of espionage.  They stole technology and copied it.  And they were the first into space because their captured Nazi rocket scientists did it before our captured Nazi rocket scientists did.  (The seed of the space industry was the Nazi V-2 rocket that reigned terror on London and other cities during World War II).

(Lest you think that I’m ripping on the Soviet/Russian people, I’m not.  Just their economic system during the Soviet era.  Their people have suffered.  And persevered.  It was them after all who first threw back Napoleon in Europe.  And it was them who first threw back the Nazis in Europe.  They gave us Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Mikhail Dolivo-Dobrovolsky and, of course, Maria Sharapova to name just a few of the greats.  Good people.  Just sometimes bad government.  As in most nations.  Even in the U.S.)

SO WHAT IS the basic difference between capitalism and a command economy like that of the former Soviet Union?  Probably the freedom to take and accept risk.  Bankers take a risk in loaning money.  They analyze the risk.  If the return on the loan is greater than the risk, they’ll make the loan.  It’s their call.  And they’re pretty good.  Their successes are far greater than their failures.

Some loans are riskier than others.  There’s a greater chance of failure.  But it could also be the next, say, Microsoft.  Or Apple.  If so, even though there’s great risk, the potential of reward is so great that people will want to loan money.  They’ll buy junk bonds (high risk/high yield) or an initial public offering of stock.  They’ll risk their money for a greater return on their investment.  If it pays off.  And they don’t always do.  But good ideas with potential typically find financing.  And investors typically make more money than they lose.  It’s a pretty good system.  Capitalism.

WHEN YOU HAVE risk takers who choose to participate in the free flow of ideas and capital, great things happen.  Modern AC electrical power that we take for granted is invented (thank you Nikola Tesla for the genius and George Westinghouse for taking the risk).  You develop modern commercial jet aviation (thank you Boeing for the 707, 727, 737, 747, well, you get the picture).  You transform the world when you add impurities to semiconducting material and sandwich them together (thank you John Bardeen, Walter H. Brattain and William B. Shockley for the transistor).

These great things, along with others, give us professional sports (stadiums, transportation to and from the stadium, jetliners to take teams to other stadiums, oil exploration and refining for jet and car fuel, etc.).  They give us movies (financing, cameras and production equipment, special effects, theaters, popcorn, DVDs for home viewing, etc.).  They give us cell phones (cellular towers, switching networks, compact and long lasting batteries, interactive handheld devices, voicemail, email, texting, etc.).  And they liberated women to do whatever they want wherever they want by making feminine hygiene protection portable and plentiful (mass production, rail and truck transport, retail and vending outlets, etc.) and by providing convenient privacy (public toilet facilities with vending machines and disposal bins). 

Imagine any of these things provided by the same people who renew our driver’s license.  Do you think any of it would be as good?  Or do you think it would be more like Soviet-era life?  There’s so much we take for granted in capitalism because we can.  It’s a system that works on basic human nature.  It doesn’t require sacrifice.  It doesn’t depend on consensus.  It just needs the free flow of ideas and capital.  And great things follow.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

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