jcbrunner's history annex (2)
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This is a continuation of the previous thread whose 75.000 words, pasted into Word, fill 133 pages. Quite a splash of words for a single year! This is also a suitable point to acknowledge and thank my annex co-resident mercure for his erudite, enlightening and entertaining contributions from spots all across the globe. If this were a TV show, we'd think about re-branding or promoting the sidekick to full billing. Comments and contributions welcome.
Re Belgium, I have great sympathy for the French speakers' reluctance to learn Dutch. The utility of Dutch or Swiss German is fairly limited. Learning English or German certainly offers higher pay-off. The surprising and shocking fact is that among Walloons, foreign language skills (at both 20% in English and Dutch) already mirror a two-thirds society of haves and have-nots. The numbers would probably be a bit better if they asked about Italian and Portuguese too, given the large immigrant population from those countries (among them the parents of the current prime minister). Dismal local government plays a major role.
In Europe, according to data in a Swiss study, Luxembourg is the champion with 3 foreign languages (spoken by all of its two citizens). In second place are the Netherlands with 2,2 foreign languages. In the third place is Switzerland (2,0), with its result dragged down by French speakers (1,7) from the Dutch level (2,2) in German-speaking Switzerland. One interesting finding of the study is that the more languages a person speaks the better the overall linguistic capabilities. If you already speak, say, French, picking up Italian or Spanish is much easier. An important message for politicians is that early language acquisition is key: Early childhood investments pay huge dividends (obesity is learned at young age too).
I was quite shocked to read (genial) Martin Wolf's drastic fallout of a Grexit (FT: Google "A permanent precedent"). It is probably cheaper keeping the Greeks in, so that true battlefields are Portugal and Spain. Spain's banks are effectively toast, having ruined themselves in real estate speculation. A clean slate should resolve this problem. Much more difficult is to stimulate enough demand to bring unemployment down. Europe needs a Marshall plan that, however, doesn't invest in concrete (which Spain, Italy, Greece and Portugal have plenty of - you cannot throw a stone in those countries without hitting a sign "financed by EU").
Meanwhile in Africa, climate change and the Libyan intervention trigger catastrophes. In a recent documentary about the treasures of Timbouktou on Arte TV, they mentioned that the Sahara desert is advancing 16 meters a year, pushing people south. In my slow advance in John Reader's dragging Africa : a biography of the continent is the example of a 1994 caravan of 150 camels carrying salt from a former prison salt mine at Taoudenni to Timbouktou. One truck or five to six Toyota pick-ups can do the work of 150 camels. Driving those trucks or pick-ups would be dangerous, though, as the Tuareg are active, fighting with/against Islamists and others. The foreign advisors trained and equipped the Tuareg to fight against Gaddafi. Partial nomads make much better fighters than city slickers (although the performance of the Libyan militia has been particularly dismal - two to three months' training should have sufficed to develop competent platoon to company sized forces, given suitable recruits).
The plight of Africa and South America is central to Jared Diamond's effective demolishing job of Daron Acemoglu's and James A. Robinson's Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty. I have now read the first two chapters. Their callousness (or is it ignorance?) is truly shocking. Their main point that good government is crucial is a no-brainer. Diamond effectively destroys the idea that the poor countries ever stood a chance. They are not poor by libertarian "choice" and a penchant for dictators. The most offensive about Acemoglu/Robinson (both European trophies for America's 1% Ivies) is the unhistorical choice of examples to make their case. Can you really point to Allende Chile as a bad example while holding up the good example of the US without even mentioning the heavy hand that the US had in the internal affairs of Chile. Likewise, it is completely unfair to mention the Mexican mess without at least acknowledging the near constant presence of US advisors or armies in that country. Slamming Mexico for failing to control the drug trade while ignoring that the US DEA supplied thousands of assault rifles to the drug cartels is just mean. Living next door to a 800 pound gorilla makes it difficult to "cultiver son jardin".
It is also crazy to constantly hold up Arizona, of all places, as an example of good government. The hellhole of Arizona is wingnut central, living on the Federal dime. Arizona is the state where a local Republican politician raffled an (Austrian) Glock pistol, the model used to shoot Arizona congresswoman Gabby Gliffords in the head, to mention just one among many, many scandals. Good government, you won't find it in Arizona. People not convinced should just watch its governor talk. The book is mostly a love letter to the libertarian one percent. Those brown and yellow people are responsible for their own misery. Let them eat cake!
Is it already 133 pages? You must have used a large font then. Anyway, thank you for the compliment. However, it won’t stop me from wholeheartedly disagreeing with you.
Like about the European Song Contest. I think we should change hardly anything at all. If every country is forced to sing in its native tongue we give a great advantage to speakers of Europe’s larger countries like France or England, because their languages are used more internationally. You give equal chances to Swiss Germans and Dutchmen if they do not have to use their strange guttural languages. Forbidding dance acts is difficult to reconcile with singing in native languages: who knows what a song in Finnish is actually about? I also do not see much in using expert juries. Before SMS messages Holland’s expert jury usually gave at least dix points to Israel. The change to SMS has only marginally changed this. I did not know Holland gave top points to Germany, I thought it now always gives douze points to Israel’s former friend Turkey. Dutch Turks love to express their exceptional position in Dutch society in such contests. Rotterdam Turks also managed to get this rather mediocre mosque voted as best new building; much to the chagrin of the native population. After sixty years of immigration they still build their mosques like if they were in the Anatolian countryside. But for the rest the European Song Contest is all rather harmless and a good way to see where loyalties are. Isn’t it wonderful that the Serbs vote for the Croatians and vice versa? In the mean time we can go on with business. The only change I would make is that public television should no longer broadcast this programme. It should be left to commercial stations, and I’d recommend they pay no more for it than for any “so you can think you can dance” reality show.
I am also not to fond of the matches in the preliminary round of Euro 2012. I care less for Italy and England, as well as for France since Henri and Zidane retired, but I would like to see Holland, Germany and Spain to make it into the semi-finals. These countries play beautiful football and all deserve a fair chance to make it that far with some beautiful matches. The preliminary rounds are just for the smaller football nations to join the fun and increase income for the organisers. Becoming champion is a matter of willpower (the Dutch have some improvement to make here, given that they are world champion in losing finals), luck, and not getting too tired in the early rounds. You saw that in the last World Cup final: the energy was gone and both teams played below par.
I would expect that more Walloons speak English than Dutch. But you cannot seriously compare Swiss German to Dutch in terms of influence. Dutch is spoken by far more people. Holland and Flanders are about 23 million people. You might be misguided by the small size of these countries, but together they have more citizens and more economic impact than Australia, a member of the G-20. In European terms, there are about as many Dutch speakers as speakers of Danish, Norwegian, Swedish and Finnish combined. Portuguese, Greek and all Eastern European languages except Polish and Russian also have fewer speakers (Portuguese being the exception in Africa and Brazil). Smart Walloons learn Dutch. It gives them access to a job market with much lower unemployment without the trouble that cross border work would give them. Early exposure to Dutch could also help them to speak German like Sprachwahrer Louis van Gaal. But Walloons are part of Latin Europe and Latin Europe and its offshore speakers do not like to learn other languages, the Swiss Italians being the odd exception. The most Latin of all Latinos are of course the Anglos. No matter where you go, be it Britain, Oz, Canada (hi Lola!) or America, they are hopeless in foreign languages. Come to think of it, the Anglos also share a Mediterranean lust for government deficits. People in Germanic countries are far more prone to learn other languages than these tax sinners. The northerners do so particularly if that language is English, which shares the same roots.
It is indeed probably cheaper to keep the Greeks in the euro, but only for the short run if you believe this article:
Morgan Stanley’s economists suggest a fourth outcome for Europe, which they call “matrimonio a l’Italiana” (after the Sophia Loren movie). The Italian marriage to which they refer started in the 1860s after Italian unification, when a single currency was introduced for the entire country. At that date, the north of Italy was more prosperous than the south. Incomes were around 20 per cent higher. The south, however, was no economic backwater. It had a larger population and greater industrial employment than the north.
The economic history of Italy over the subsequent 150 years has been one of persistent divergence between north and south. Wage disparities started to rise shortly after unification. Today, northern Italians earn on average around 70 per cent more than southerners. The south has experienced consistently higher levels of unemployment. Poverty and lack of economic opportunity has spurred emigration.
There is a huge body of literature on the economic failure of the Mezzogiorno, as the south of Italy is called. Cultural disparities must have played a part. But Italy’s currency union appears to have exacerbated the problems. Southern Italy has experienced lower productivity growth than the north. In the late 19th century, its farmers faced growing price competition from the New World. Had the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies still existed, its currency would surely have been devalued. What actually happened is that Italy’s real exchange rate appreciated in the decades after unification. Southern Italy became progressively less competitive.
Italy’s currency union held together because the north made, and continues to make, large fiscal transfers to the south. Economists reckon these transfers to be around 4-5 per cent of Italian GDP. A flow of subsidies towards the south has had evil consequences: incomes have been maintained at uneconomically high levels, fostering unemployment. Large infrastructure and development projects have fuelled corruption, sustaining southern Italy’s criminal societies. Fiscal transfers helped Italy maintain its political unity but the cost has been enormous. From an economic perspective, the Mezzogiorno would probably have done better if it had stayed out of Italy’s monetary union.
Today, Greece stands on the brink of an exit from the euro. To avoid further sovereign contagion, the remaining eurozone members may find themselves pushed rapidly into a more complete fiscal and political union. The markets would doubtless applaud such an outcome. But if Italy’s example is relevant, the northern eurozone members could find themselves paying indefinitely a large tribute to the south. Economic divergences within the single currency area could become entrenched. Viewed from this perspective, a clean-break divorce might bring more immediate pain but in the end prove less costly than an unhappy marriage Italian style.
I agree with you that more “investment” will not make the difference. Greece has a railroad that nobody uses and Spain has probably the best motorways in the European Union, all paid for with subsidies. Investment in training will not produce the necessary benefits to improve income with 20%. The only country that could use investment is Ireland. They used European subsidies to transfer them to corporates who use Ireland as a tax haven. They invested sparsely in road construction for example: when you leave Dublin’s airport you are almost immediately stuck in a traffic jam on a provincial road. But given this set-up, the Irish could increase their income themselves.
It is great that we have documentaries about Timbuktu, because developments there are pretty bad. The city is now in the hands of salafists who have started to destroy ancient monuments. Mali is a splendid country. I recommend everybody to visit West Africa before they get caught in the nets of girlfriends who want comfort and shopping during their holidays. I have not made it to Timbuktu, but Djenné has the same mud architecture and splendid mosque. West Africans practice a syncretic type of Islam that is much more pleasant than that practiced by the Arabs in the Gulf. It would be shameful if that culture was destroyed. The Tuaregs are also Muslims but veil their men, not their women. It is a sight not to be missed to see the men in blue gallop into town on their horses and camels on market day. But under all circumstances they will have great difficulty maintaining their lifestyle in the long run.
Having just finished and reviewed The Great Divergence I wonder if we will be able to really ascertain why countries fail to develop. This is a very complex matter where we lack historical statistics and experimentation in a laboratory. The Great Divergence makes the case for Europe’s great leap forward vis-à-vis China during the Industrial Revolution, but it cannot find all conclusive factors beyond proximity to coal in Britain and the advantages it had from the Americas. China also had coal, albeit not so close to the most developed areas. China almost had the technology to build steam engines and its business practices were not below Britain’s according to Mr. Pomeranz. Both economies were growing, both per capita and by expanding populations. Mr. Pomeranz also says that increased protection of private capital had no effect on interest rates in Britain. All these factors Jared Diamond mention matter, but if I look at Indonesia he only has one leading factor: colonial extraction. But that happened in Malaysia also and Malaysia is a middle income country while Indonesia is not yet there. Indonesia is of course much bigger and more complex and has a smaller Chinese constituency that runs so many medium-sized businesses in Southeast Asia. Indonesia also became independent before it had enough educated cadres, which is what modern Indonesians consider an important factor. Also, corrupt dictatorships can bring wealth, as South Korea and Taiwan have proven and their ways to prosperity are not very equal at closer inspection. Ghana has upgraded its institutions in the last decade, but it is not really booming. It probably does not help that the neighbours are fighting a civil war. The stress on institutions is a typical modern Western discourse, where “governance” and “transparency” are recent buzzwords used ad nauseum by the wrong kind of managers to implement more bureaucracy (“there are lies, damned lies, and ISAE 3402”, my colleagues say). A mathematical model for development forecasting would require endless parameters. But institutions do matter. Their importance may also depend upon the level of development already accomplished. For places like Singapore and Hong Kong they are unique selling points. Western multinationals and local tycoons all park their money there, because of the rule of law. The fact that the law in these places is British and that most expats are British also helps (and helps Brits to get expat jobs).
And Arizona, isn’t that one of those states with a big deficit that is sponsored by the Northeast?
By the way, I hope we can make an equally impressive list of Touchstone Works and Authors like before.
As for the importance of institutions relative to economic development, I found some affirmation in this article about China’s development and housing boom:
China's economic model, for all its odd communist trappings, closely resembles the successful strategy for "catch-up growth" pioneered by Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan after World War II. The theory behind catch-up growth is that poor countries can achieve substantial convergence with rich-country income levels by simply copying and diffusing imported technology. In the 1950s and 1960s, for instance, Japan reverse-engineered products such as cars, watches, and cameras, enabling the emergence of global firms like Toyota, Nikon, and Sony. Achieving catch-up growth requires an export-focused industrial policy, intensive investment in enabling infrastructure and basic industry, and tight control over the financial system so that it supports infrastructure, basic industries, and exporters, instead of trying to maximize its own profits.
China's catch-up phase is far from over. It has mastered the production of basic industrial materials and consumer products, but its move into sophisticated machinery and high-tech products has only just begun. In 2010, China's per capita income was only 20 percent of the U.S. level. By most measures, China's economy today is comparable to Japan's in the late 1960s and South Korea's and Taiwan's around 1980. Each of those countries subsequently experienced another decade or two of rapid growth. Given the similarity of their economic systems, there is no obvious reason China should differ.
For catch-up countries, growth is mainly about resource mobilization, not resource efficiency, which is the name of the game for lower-growth rich countries. Historically, about two-thirds of China's annual real GDP growth has come from additions of capital and labor. Mainly this means moving workers out of traditional agriculture and into the modern labor force, and increasing the amount of capital inputs (like machinery and software) per worker. Less than a third of growth in China comes from greater efficiency in resource use.
It is not the whole word, however. China and the tiger economies all saw government involvement in economic development. In most cases the government was even leading. China is also corrupt and inefficient in the allocation of capital. The one-party state with a tight lid on the press that is led by engineers has something to explain here. It is politically stable at a macro level, but less so at a micro level. Now compare that to India. India was plagued by the Hindu rate of growth for many decades, caused by Nehru’s well-intended socialist measures, implemented by a democracy with a free press. When the economy was liberalised, growth picked up. One of the things that are organised much better in China than in India is infrastructural investment. It is the same with Indonesia. Experts now see lacking infrastructural investment as the main curb on the country’s growth. The government accepts the point, but is reluctant to make the investment. It feels it cannot control corruption. China has less of a worry here, because it has much greater control of the press than the vibrant young democracy. What are good institutions here? The right mix seems situational. Sweeping statements harm.
Also good, and recommended by Barry Eichengreen was this article about the euro:
Like the former East Germany, Greece suffers from a crippling competitiveness gap and is locked into the euro. East Germans were priced out of the labor market because the value of the Deutsche mark reflected Western, not Eastern, productivity levels. About 14,000 businesses were shut down and four million jobs lost in the first five years after formal reunification, in 1990. Unemployment eventually peaked at more than 20 percent in 2005.
Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, in 1989, more than 2 million of the 16 million people living in the East have moved West. Long-term unemployment and wage depression bolstered xenophobic parties and the Left Party, which grew from the former East German Communist Party and hopes to reach the national government in 2013.
More than two decades later, living standards have converged, although they remain about 20 percent lower in the East with unemployment in the Eastern part at nearly twice the Western average.
And this was within one nation with the same language, perfect mobility and the fiscal transfers missing in the euro zone: German taxpayers financed more than €1.7 trillion, or about $2.17 trillion, at current exchange rates, with the "solidarity surcharge" to pay for modernizing the former East Germany.
Nowadays, debt levels in the northern half of the euro zone are also high, in the case of France on the level of 90% of GDP where debt supposedly becomes harmful for economic development. Germany is not far from that level, although debt levels may fall in the current boom.
It looks like Eurovision, which I managed to miss, will turn once again into Balkanvision. As one local radio host here joked, the song contest is just the latest human rights abuse occurring in Baku.
Arizona is Florida for people who hate water. It is, after Utah, the second US state to adopt in 2011 an official "state firearm" - the Colt Peacemaker. Fun fact: Only 15% of Arizona's land is privately owned. 4.5 out of 6.5 mio Arizonans live in the Phoenix area (GDP and size are comparable to Finland, which is a bit less populated, richer and larger). While Finland will probably benefit from climate change, Arizona is a certain loser. Hopefully, the 100 years assured water supplies are monitored better than US mortgages. The worst hard time is a great account of a human made climate catastrophe of the 1930s Dust Bowl (in Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, Nebraska). Messing with mother nature is not advised. In one of history's sad twists, Dick Cheney's father worked for the government's soil conservation program.
Why nations fail has a fairly active book blog. It includes a response to Fukuyama's review. The two authors were quite piqued. Fukuyama, of all people, writes: "Like many other works making use of history but written by economists, the AR volume contains some pretty problematic facts and interpretations." Fukuyama is actually correct in this case. The two authors often miss the context and come to callous conclusions. A bit like George W Bush writing a book about good economic policy. Fukuyama's own books are littered with mistakes of the same category. What differs is their world view. Acemoglu/Robinson seem to think in abstract models, while F. is enraptured in confirmation bias.
In Euroland meanwhile, Cruella de Ville seeks to extract a pound of flesh from the starving Greeks. It is Weimar all over again: Letting the real culprits go (the Kaiser enjoying his retreat in the Netherlands) and inflicting pain on the wrong ones. Please note that the unfortunate formulation of "It's payback time" is actually the journalist's. As a pro, Lagarde should not have confirmed it. A better target for her anger would be ECB president Mario Draghi was Goldman Sachs director international had a hand in arranging the financial Titanic disaster on Greece and the Euro by hiding Greek debt from ECB and public scrutiny for outlandish sums.
Straight at number one at Amazon (and probably Der Spiegel too) entered Thilo Sarrazin's new book about the Euro Europa braucht den Euro nicht. Sarrazin is the loose cannon among a very small group of people who steered Germany's macro politics (Köhler, Tietmeyer). The technocratic continuity of that group, despite the shifts between SPD-CDU-FDP, helped sustain remarkably good policy (although German economic policy during the 1990s and 2000s was too politics-driven to make for good economics. Germany does not merit the praise it currently receives. Especially Germany's north is weak in economic management). Sarrazin moved from SPD policy wonk into the finance ministry to the Bundesbank but was always deemed to irreverent/wacky to hold "real" responsibility. He plays the important role of court jester.
His last book dealt with the failed integration of Turkish immigrants. He correctly noticed that sixty percent of second generation Turkish immigrants marry persons from Turkish backwoods regions. Thus instead of assimiliation, Germany is faced with a growing wave of poorly educated first generation immigrants who mess up the German model of a highly paid, skilled workforce.
His new book about the Euro has the obvious key message that Germany didn't need the Euro, sacrificing the D-Mark on the altar of French friendship, exploited by the lazy Club Med. It is personal history, too. Sarrazin, born in 1945, saw Germany emerge out of the ashes of WWII and surpass France, England and the US in economic policy. He actively gloats about the relative loss of the US dollar compared to the D-Mark (barely one third the value it had in 1948). Helmut Kohl is the book's bad guy, giving in to the French snake. Sarrazin downplays two major policy mistakes. First, as mentioned by Eichengreen in your quote, the 1:1 East German Mark exchange rate which needlessly inflicted pain on East Germany in order not to hurt (imaginary?) feelings. As Sarrazin was involved in that decision, it is a missed chance of the book which in its first 200 pages gives a (highly abbreviated) recap of German monetary policy from 1948 to 2010 (this is also the part I have already read). The second mistake which he does not elaborate has two aspects: First, starting the Euro big (not with the D-Mark core countries) and secondly, by the Franco-German failure to comply with Maastricht. When Schröder allowed Germany to break the criteria, he signaled the crooks to get going. The present economic misery is the result of various watchdogs to do their duty.
What prevents the Walloons from speaking more Flemish is the cultural change. Learning Dutch/Flemish means being able to function in a Germanic environment. Vice versa, the German cities in the 15th to the 18th century hated coming under French administration, "police", "office" and "bureau-cracy" being French inventions. Some marginal countries continue to resist against French norms such as the meter ... The stereotype of Romanic laziness, so dear especially in the Anglo-American press (The Economist fills half a page per issue with it), is wrong. The French, for example, are as if not more productive as other countries. It is just a different way of doing a job. In the Swiss military, we called our French-speakers "Russians" because they usually waited in stand-by for explicit orders before doing a job and then scrambling like hell, while our "Germanic" approach was based upon a steady model of delegation. Both achieved their goals. It is just a question of what environment one wants to work in.
I think you are too harsh on Romanic language speakers. Many Portuguese are proficient in Spanish and/or French, Italian. Within a language family, it is quite easy to pick up another one. So there are a lot of Italians and French who speak each other's language quite well. In my efforts to learn Swedish, the proximity of it to English is very helpful. It is sort of an intermediate between German and English but much closer to the latter. No wonder many Scandinavians speak near native English.
As far as timetables are concerned, Italy now has a new high-speed (well, high speed for Italian environments, 200 km/h) train Italo. Fast and not too expensive connections between Italy's major cities is great.
I'm tickled that you gentlemen turn out to be closet Eurovision critics. Very tempted to code-name you Waldorf and Statler from now on...
I would not consider myself a closet critic of the Beggars Opera that is the Eurovision Song Contest, Lola. I think it is great that Europe has invented ways for the Balkan and the Caucasus to compete peacefully at limited costs for the rest of us. I wish Palestine would join also, they could compete with Israel. But I simply do not belong to the subculture that watches this programme. For any non-Europeans still reading and who are unfamiliar with this phenomenon, Fareed Zakaria wrote this explanation:
What caught my eye this week was a dispute between two members of a grand old European alliance. The alliance isn't NATO; it's not the Arctic Council nor the Euro Zone, nor the EU. I'm talking about the annual Eurovision Song Contest.
It's camp; it's cheesy; but it's a huge hit across the pond. Every year, dozens of countries send their top performers to an American Idol-style music competition. More than a 100 million viewers tune in to vote for their favorites.
So far he has got it right. But then he says:
For me, the fascinating thing about Eurovision is not the performances or the music. It's the politics and public psychology. Here at GPS, we plotted the capital cities of the winning countries from the past two decades on a longitudinal graph - yeah, that's the kind of thing we do in our spare time. We found that in the 1990s, the winners tended to be from Western Europe - Dublin or London. But by the late 2000s, the winners mostly came from the East - Moscow and Kiev. Europe's center of gravity is clearly moving East.
And these voters have interesting tendencies. In 2003, Britain got exactly zero votes - that was the year the Blair government supported the war in Iraq. Votes aren't always conscious political choices. But we saw trends. Greeks always vote for Cypriots. The Cypriots return the favor. Viewers from former Warsaw-Pact countries often vote as a bloc. So do members of the former Yugoslavia. In 2007, Serbia won after picking up maximum points from Bosnia-Herzigovina, Croatia, Macedona, Montenegro, and Slovenia. All in all, this is an interesting window into Europe.
Spelling country names is difficult, even if they are in English. I would not agree that the centre of gravity of Europe is really moving east. Rather, blasé Western Europeans do not vote as a block. Interestingly, Mr. Zakaria then concludes:
So it got me thinking. We have American Idol here in the U.S., and we have "The Voice". But perhaps what we really need is our own Eurovision - an "Americavision".
Will people from red states strategically vote for each other? Will the two coasts create an alliance? Will there be a North-South divide?
What blocks would you have in the US? North Dakota voting for South Dakota? Illinois for Michigan? Alabama for Louisiana? Arizona for Alaska? Would one hundred million Americans watch this, or would the producers be able to sell this globally?
Anyway, according to JC’s timestamp he finished his last posting early enough to watch the Contest. Instead, he should have read this FT-interview of Martin Wolf with his hero Paul Krugman:
“I remember there was a humorous column in the Independent which would have been in about 1992 or thereabouts, about the decision to give the Booker Prize to the Maastricht Treaty – a postmodern novel in strict treaty form. And throughout the novel one senses, in the background, powerful forces with unknown motives. Who are these forces, what do they want? We never learn.
Unfortunately, elsewhere he blows it for me:
“What we thought was that Japan was a cautionary tale. It has turned into Japan as almost a role model. They never had as big a slump as we have had. They managed to have growing per capita income through most of what we call their ‘lost decade’. My running joke is that the group of us who were worried about Japan a dozen years ago ought to go to Tokyo and apologise to the emperor. We’ve done worse than they ever did. When people ask: might we become Japan? I say: I wish we could become Japan.”
I hope neither we nor America will become like Japan. Japan has a national debt of 200%. Its Minister of Finance has said that the country cannot handle a 1% rise in interest on debt. That rate is currently extremely low, although deflation helps here. Japanese national debt is mainly financed by saving banks, where the Japanese citizens get almost no interest, keeping current interest rates on government bonds low. Many of these savers are retiring and will need their savings as income. The sun will set in the East when Japan has to finance its national debt on international debt markets.
Mr. Krugman should restrict his judgment to places he knows about. But of course his book will make him a lot of money. In the same newspaper, Raghuram Rajan (of the University of Chicago, so you can ignore him) warns against one-size-fits-all measures of “populist Keynesians”:
Targeted government spending, or reduced austerity, along the lines suggested by sensible Keynesians, might be feasible in some countries and helpful in speeding recovery. But we should examine each policy based on a country’s circumstances. We should be particularly wary of populist Keynesians, who parrot “in the long run we are dead” to justify any short-sighted government action. They do the world a disservice by suggesting there are easy ways out. By misleading people and their leaders, they may well precipitate revolution rather than recovery.
So would you rate Europa braucht den Euro nicht a good book? The few German papers I checked on the internet did not think much of it, but they may be too politically correct to give Thilo Sarrazin a fair chance. Germany’s monetary policy may have been best practice, but its income policy was not for two decades. When that ran the German economy into trouble, the BuBa forced the ECB to lower euro interest rates to meet Germany’s needs, irrespective of others. This is a third mistake you did not mention. It was at a time when countries like Spain could have benefited from higher interest rates to reduce the real estate bubble. Although I think Spanish politicians loved the growth so much they would not have done much against it anyway. There are enough instruments to deflate bubbles besides monetary policy. However, it will probably not help you to get re-elected if you use these instruments.
And are northern German states run so badly? Hamburg is one of the richest areas in Germany. Rather, it is the centre that is doing badly, particularly areas like Nordrhein-Westphalia and Saarland (this may seem “northern” if you are in Vienna). But these belong to the same rustbelt as neighbouring Dutch Limburg, Belgian Wallonia and the north of France. All these areas have problems with the transformation of their economy, irrespective of national approaches or conservative or social democrat policies.
And I think you are wrong about Walloons crossing a cultural divide if they work in Flanders. Flanders and Wallonia have been part of one entity since the Middle Ages and have both been under French-speaking leadership most of the time. The Flemings are more like the Walloons than like their northern or eastern neighbours. That said, you are right about the Portuguese speaking lots of foreign languages. Many Spaniards do also.
Christine Lagarde’s remarks about Greece were really off the mark. The people who suffer most from the downturn, the unemployed and average wage earners, may have been among those who paid most taxes. You may wonder if Mme Lagarde’s remark has been on purpose. It can be interpreted as a wake-up call, but in an honour-based society (how many votes did Greece get from Serbia?), the reaction might be more like “screw you”. It may convince quite a few Greeks they’d better leave the euro club. At the same time, Greece has stalled all sales of government owned assets pending new elections. No law is brought through parliament to end the constitutional (!) right of ship owners not to pay taxes. Elsewhere in Spain, a minister declared that it is absolutely necessary that football clubs and football players do not pay outstanding tax claims of over 1 Bn. After all, football was an investment in the nation’s image. On the sideline, David Cameron repeats ad nauseum that “the euro zone should get its house in order” and implement euro bonds, by which he means that Germany and its neighbours should bail out the highly leveraged British banks at no costs to Britain. Monti says that the majority of European countries favour euro-bonds. Of course they do: the get a free lunch of lower interest and transfer non-reform risks to the north. Sometimes I would ask the government here if we have a stop loss position.
I don't give much credit to Zakaria's psychological or political insight. The idea that Europe's "centre of gravity", however it's interpreted, is moving East, is daft. As for the East voting "as a bloc", that's nonsense as well. Eurovision provides a cheap way for some very public flattery, and when you're in such straits as Eastern Europe today, you better make nice, first of all with the neighbours.
Zakaria's implied astonishment that Serbia, the great villain of the Yugoslav wars, could garner winning votes from Croatia et al. simply shows how idiotic American and Western analysis of that crisis had been.
Fareed Zakaria’s conclusion that Europe’s centre of gravity is moving east is peculiar, particularly for a man who wrote in a presumably thoughtful book that soon the world will stop revolving around the USA. Eastern Europe had its own centres and rituals. What changed since the Iron Curtain came down is the reintegration of western and eastern Europe. The current European Song Contest is an expression of this reintegration. The disintegration of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia have led to a proliferation of new countries, all with equal voting rights.
It seems Zakaria (or his assistant) got a lot of his information from this article. The article not only mentions the blocs, but also the zero votes for Britain during the war on Iraq, and who made the assessment of its cause (Terry Wogan).
The article confirms the theory of various blocs. Some parts of the article are more convincing than others. That Scandinavians usually give a lot of votes each other is one thing, to consider Moldova part of a “Viking Bloc” because of a shared history some 1,000 years ago seems rather absurd. The article talks about a Balkan voting bloc that includes Greece and Turkey. It gives three reasons for the blocs: shared taste, an expression of political affiliation, and pure game theory. In the last case, the Balkan block has now become too big for the number of votes it gets.
Among the other conclusions of the article are:
It is also clear that many of the countries of what has been termed "the new Europe" see the contest as a means of advertising their new independence and European identity to the outside world. The contest now operates successfully on two levels, appealing equally to western post-modernists who revel in the very tastelessness and contempt for "serious" pop music that appalled the previous intellectual generation, and also to emerging states rediscovering the pan-European spirit of the contest's founders. The contest is now an important cultural phenomenon meriting academic study.
For something completely different: we have all added to the Ancient China thread. I found this article today about Chinese culture that does not really fit there very well, but that is still interesting for people who want to learn about the Chinese Weltanschauung. It advertises the author’s new book What Chinese Want: Culture, Communism and China's Modern Consumer, which is not yet out in Europe. The book seems to aim at corporate decision makers and marketing types, so it should be simple and clear to reach its target audience (I hope it is not in Powerpoint format). Some quotations:
Though the country's economy and society are evolving rapidly, the underlying cultural blueprint has remained more or less constant for thousands of years. China is a Confucian society, a quixotic combination of top-down patriarchy and bottom-up social mobility. Citizens are driven by an ever-present conflict between standing out and fitting in, between ambition and regimentation. In Chinese society, individuals have no identity apart from obligations to, and acknowledgment by, others. The clan and nation are the eternal pillars of identity. Western individualism—the idea of defining oneself independent of society—doesn't exist.
Chinese at all socioeconomic levels try to "win"—that is, climb the ladder of success—while working within the system, not against it. In Chinese consumer culture, there is a constant tension between self-protection and displaying status. This struggle explains the existence of two seemingly conflicting lines of development. On the one hand, we see stratospheric savings rates, extreme price sensitivity and aversion to credit-card interest payments. On the other, there is the Chinese fixation with luxury goods and a willingness to pay as much as 120% of one's yearly income for a car.
The instinct of consumers to project status through material display is counterbalanced by conservative buying behavior. Protective benefits are the primary consideration for consumers.
To win a following among Chinese buyers, brands have to follow three rules. First and most important, products that are consumed in public, directly or indirectly, command huge price premiums relative to goods used in private. The leading mobile phone brands are international. The leading household appliance brands, by contrast, are cheaply priced domestic makers.
The second rule is that the benefits of a product should be external, not internal. Even for luxury goods, celebrating individualism—with familiar Western notions like "what I want" and "how I feel"—doesn't work in China. Automobiles need to make a statement about a man on his way up. BMW, for example, has successfully fused its global slogan of the "ultimate driving machine" with a Chinese-style declaration of ambition.
The last rule for positioning a brand in China is that products must address the need to navigate the crosscurrents of ambition and regimentation, of standing out while fitting in. Men want to succeed without violating the rules of the game, which is why wealthier individuals prefer Audis or BMWs over flashy Maseratis.
Luxury buyers want to demonstrate mastery of the system while remaining understated, hence the appeal of Mont Blanc's six-point logo or Bottega Veneta's signature cross weave—both conspicuously discreet.
How this last point matches with the Chinese love for Louis Vuiton is not really clear to me, but in general what he says seems not far off the mark. In other cases the differences are probably not as big:
Chinese parents are drawn to brands promising "stealthy learning" for their children: intellectual development masked as fun. Disney will succeed more as an educational franchise—its English learning centers are going gangbusters—than as a theme park. McDonald's restaurants, temples of childhood delight in the West, have morphed into scholastic playgrounds in China: Happy Meals include collectible Snoopy figurines wearing costumes from around the world, while the McDonald's website, hosted by Professor Ronald, offers Happy Courses for multiplication. Skippy peanut butter combines "delicious peanut taste" and "intelligent sandwich preparation."
The stealthy learning part will be appreciated by Western parents too. I have not seen that many “Mozart for Babies” CD’s in Europe as in China. Listening to Mozart supposedly enhances babies’ intelligence.
>5 Late to the party, Lola? Another suggestion would be Loriot's two gentlemen in a bathtub (NSFW for American Talibans in fear of tiny cartoon genitalia).
I, indeed, as publicly announced, have watched the Eurovision song contest. In Austria, you can chose either a regular or snark commentary audio channel. It is the snark that makes the over-the-top event fun. Sweden deservedly won. The Scandinavian voting bloc is the only Western contender against Balkan/Soviet pop. As previously stated, I am for demographic weighing to correct the impact of Montenegro giving 12 points to Serbia. The low point of the evening was the constant complaining of one moderator bimbo of having to speak a few words in French (promoted by San Marino, of all places). By the way, Austria's points presenter earned 40 EUR for her 17,8 seconds appearance (8.000 EUR/h).
I love time series. Watching the past Eurovision winners offers so much cultural history (One of the best snarks yesterday was about the Swiss cruelty of sending the first contest winner Lys Assia, who attended the event yesterday, to die into the Baku deserts). The details and camera work of Mad Men makes it my current favorite TV show.
Zakaria is one of America's Ron Burgundys. Every empire in decline first restricts intelligent discussion. I admire Paul Krugman's stoicism. I couldn't absorb the volume of lies and falsehood on the TV talk shows. It is the era of the death of shame, e.g. Colin Powell strutting around with long debunked lies.
Paul Krugman owes his place among the dimwits of the New York Times op ed writers to a mistake. In the 1990s Krugman was conservative and technocratic (after all, he played a minor role in the Reagan administration). He was not expected to write the truth. Now, the editors are unable to un-commission him without looking more stupid than they already are (Bill Keller). I wish there was a three strikes rule: Three lies should result in public shunning. As it is, Rajan just continues in non-reality-based statements.
Paul Krugman's new book is surprisingly good, albeit directed at an audience unfamiliar with economics. Hopefully, the pothead-in-chief and the "economists" at Chicago and Georgetown find time to both read and comprehend it. I've read the interview with Martin Wolf. I'd preferred if PK had interviewed Wolf, as Krugman's story is all over the news. Slight loss of points for Martin Wolf for his choice of foie gras terrine, which is based upon animal cruelty.
I wonder who was responsible for the translation of its German edition called Vergesst die Krise (Forget the crisis) which differs markedly from the intent of the original title "End the depression now!" The publishing house Campus is known for its quick and dirty translations (which turn "cash flows" into "money rivers" in German). Part of the fun of a Campus translation is guessing what the writer actually meant. For this privilege, the German edition also costs more (25 EUR) than the English, Italian or Spanish edition.
I find Thilo Sarrazin's book entertaining. Up to now, it is mostly recap, so I can't judge its value yet. Sarrazin's post WWII mindset (including a good portion of xenophobia) doesn't trouble me. He is very data-driven. I can live with his bias. His major thrust that Germany sacrificed its currency is perhaps helpful in accomplishing the Trauerarbeit of getting over the phantom pain of D-Mark loss.
Indeed, I consider North Rhine-Westphalia part of Northern/Prussian dominated Germany, following the dividing line of 1866. Tiny, French-influenced Saarland is a special case. Hamburg and Bremen are plagued by infighting among leftist and populist local government. Both play a much smaller national political role than their economic power would indicate.
About that China culture book, can I truly consider the opinion of somebody who writes about McDonald's, temples to childhood obesity (cf. HBO via MeFi), as "restaurants, temples of childhood delight"? What a fantasy starving, selection restricted prison-like environment! Minimum wage Professor Ronald better be not in charge of multiplication ... otherwise you end up like the Boston metro which stated on a print out that 1 ticket costs 2 dollars, 2 tickets cost 4 dollars, 3 tickets cost 6 dollars and so on (when I took a picture of it to document the folly, I had to calm down the "no pics" anti-terrorism cops). Anyway, there are different segments of luxury buyers and different products for different tastes (compare Patek vs. Rolex).
Mozart for pregnant women is a spurious correlation: Pregnant crack whores are not very fond of the guy from Salzburg. Bottled water in many places is actually much more contaminated than tap water. Many still insist on bottled water. The joys of marketing!
I do not know what the Eurovision Song Contest with snarky comments has done to you but it seems to have turned you into one of those western post-modernists who revel in the very tastelessness and contempt for "serious" pop music that appalled the previous intellectual generation.
I do agree however that it had been better if Paul Krugman and Martin Wolf had had a two-way conversation. Martin Wolf would not have said such nonsense about Japan. And if you looked up Raghuram Rajan’s lemma on Wikipedia, you would not have found some saltwater economics extremist. Rajan warned for the 2008 crisis half a decade earlier and proposes regulatory measures to manage boom-bust cycles, reducing the power of the financial sector and retraining workers. That sounds like a lot of (thoughtful) government influence to me. He is not against stimulus, just against stimulus as a one-size-fits-all measure like Krugman proposes. Krugman, incidentally, is a regular guest on Zakaria’s show, that I admit could be greatly improved. The article about China tells how McDonald’s sells its products in China, not how the author thinks about the product. In Hong Kong about one in every twenty meals is sold by McDonald’s. It seems the company has learned to market its malbouffe quite well in that region.
Serious pop music? Meet the song contest winners "La, la, la", "Ding-a-dong", "A-Ba-Ni-Bi", "Diggi-Loo Diggi-Ley", to list just some winners. My pet peeve is ABBA's Waterloo which starts with "at Waterloo, Napoleon did surrender". No, he didn't. He famously fled back to Paris. Finding no political support, he abdicated in the capital.
Somebody once also talked of "irrational exuberance"; Mankiw once knew his Keynes; Rajan took a brave correct stand in 2005 and was slammed down by Larry Summers and the other water carriers of crony capitalism. Current Rajan has been thoroughly assimilated by the BORG. It is nice to say and rather obvious that stimulus is not a universal weapon. If you are facing all of the US plutocracy, what Keen and Rajan are doing is called "friendly fire". Anybody who has eyes can see opportunities for necessary and obvious investments in public infrastructure. Even the "moustache of understanding" noticed that Chinese airports looked nicer and worked better than American ones. America's local and state government have been firing teachers and public employees. Only Republican zombies fail to see how stupid such a measure is. But they are burning down the place in order to lift the chances of Gordon Gekko.
It is sad to hear that Asia's great and tasty fast food culture is under attack. At least, the inroads of Starbuck's here in Vienna are limited to ignorant tourists and homesick US students.
Loriot's two gentlemen in a bathtub
Oh, that's hilarious. And in that equation, I'm obviously the rubber ducky.
"at Waterloo, Napoleon did surrender". No, he didn't. He famously fled back to Paris. Finding no political support, he abdicated in the capital.
Exactly the sort of commentary Eurovision desperately needs. We must organise a tele-conference or something next year.
Speaking of China, I'll be reading about Shanghai next, the "Paris and New York of the East".
Serious pop music? Meet the song contest winners, etc: post-modern reading of "appealing equally to western post-modernists who revel in the very tastelessness and contempt for "serious" pop music", JC. Please do better with your book reviews for they are taken seriously.
I have no idea who the "moustache of understanding" is, but you can bet that many Chinese airports are loss-making investments. The amount of money thrown in is meant to show the might of the CCP rather than to create value for citizens or even the banks that fund this. And of course the budgets offer opportunities to grease a few palms here and there. These points do not mean that I consider arriving at any American airport a pleasure. It is not just the dilapidated state of the buildings, but also the silly security measures and the almost humorous behaviour at passport checks and customs. With current interest rates, America could easily fund an upgrade of its infrastructure. The neglect of America’s infrastructure is pretty old already. It started with Ronald Reagan.
I am however fortunate to know more about Asia's snack culture: grasshoppers, worms and scorpions are among the more standard foods I've enjoyed. The article about China that I added is too good to be ridiculed like this. Starbucks has a function in Asia. China is greatly lacking pubs/cafés as we know them, because the country only has restaurants. Starbucks and its local rip offs offer new places to meet. As a tourist I use them to take a rest. Even in Indonesia, Starbucks and its local rip-offs have a use. Although a hot cup of Java can be obtained from stalls on every second streetcorner, occasionally it is nice to enjoy air-conditioning. Besides, for locals Starbucks offers an image of the first world. Even the Dutch are not immune to this: America is still cool and not everybody has the traditional coffee culture of Italy or Vienna.
I have not read many books of Shanghai, but I can recommend Shanghai : The Rise and Fall of a Decadent City if you want to know more about the former Pearl of the Orient. The book is better than the title suggests. If you want to know why Shanghai was also called the Whore of the Orient, you may want to try Dangerous Pleasures : Prostitution and Modernity in Twentieth-Century Shanghai, a book I have not read myself. Supposedly, Dangerous Pleasures also gives an interesting overview of the city. Shanghai is not an old city, it was a village before the British and other Western powers (as well as Japan) settled there in the 19th century. I would not compare Shanghai to Paris or New York. Beijing has better credentials for a comparison to Paris, at least as far as its heritage concerns. Both these books stop in 1949 when the Communist took over power.
You may want to enhance the experience with some film watching. There are numerous triad films set in Shanghai before 1949. One of the better known is Zhang Yimou’s Shanghai Triad. Unfortunately, it is not one of his best films. You can get a look at the Shanghai of the common man in the late 1990’s by watching Suzhou River, a thriller with a touch of Hitchcock.
Sorry to disappoint, I will try to restrict my musings to less lyrical fields. Google actually correctly identifies the moustache of understanding in its new (Wikipedia-scraping) sidebar feature.
The more I sample of Tom Doctoroff's writing, the more its blandness strikes me. Not a sherpa I'd pick. I could easily rewrite his HuffPo article switching US/European for Chinese examples, e.g. "The Chinese (Americans) greeted the recent arrests of Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo (Bradley Manning) and renowned artist Ai Weiwei (pepper-spraying students) with sadness, but not righteous indignation. Concerns that do not directly impact "my family" quickly dissipate. The exception is cases wherein ordinary people can easily see themselves in the person's shoes. For instance, "nail house" owners -- stubborn folk who refuse to relinquish homes to real estate developers (foreclosure agencies) -- are local heroes."
Some of the factors he notes are caused not by culture but by the environment: Chinese like safe cars because Chinese roads are unsafe (see Hessler's New Yorker article and book Country Driving). It is also a sad statement about the United States (whose Orwellian nature he fails to see) that the Chinese feel more secure in their (non-political) free speech rights online than Americans.
What I find fascinating about Shanghai is its late start despite its obvious strategic and economic position. The upstream-downstream co-opetiton is an interesting phenomenon (Florence - Pisa). For much of history, being somewhat removed from the sea (Nanking, London, Nantes, Sevilla, Antwerp, Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Hamburg, ...) proved to be the better location.
I couldn't find a longer or better quality clip of this wonderful sequence from Busby Berkeley's Footlight Parade (1933):
Uri Caine's Metropolis Shanghai: Showboat to China evokes that smoky pre-war cosmopolitanism too.
(Caine and his trio, along with many local performers, produced a series of very good "geographical" albums aimed at capturing the spirit of the places--my favourites are Sidewalks of New York, and the Cuban and Mexican collections.)
P.S. mercure, thanks for the book recommendations, none of which I have. I picked one possibly too-serious (judging by subjects covered) academic study, and I have several French titles apparently more frivolous (sing-song girls on covers etc.)
Ah, you mean Thomas L. Friedman! I recommended The World is Flat to a pretty useless manager in search of new buzz words. He enjoyed it tremendously and was very grateful (but not useful) to me. I recall that the book was not fully without merit for a fashion product. I just hope we can keep America’s culture war off our coasts. Americans are usually pretty good salesmen of their preoccupations. I don’t think they have much success this time, not even in places as close as Canada.
And now I also recall you do not believe in cultural differences. I do. Of course you can switch US/European examples for Chinese examples. People are people. In Holland, most chemists and dentists are native Dutch. But the number of Chinese chemists and dentists is greatly disproportional to the number of Chinese in Dutch society. If Mr. Doctoroff writes that in China “Citizens are driven by an ever-present conflict between standing out and fitting in, between ambition and regimentation. In Chinese society, individuals have no identity apart from obligations to, and acknowledgment by, others. The clan and nation are the eternal pillars of identity. Western individualism—the idea of defining oneself independent of society—doesn't exit.”, he can probably produce 100 anthropological, psychological and historical footnotes to support his claim. Not all of Mr. Doctoroff’s examples make equal sense to me, but many such as the leading mobile phone brands are international. The leading household appliance brands, by contrast, are cheaply priced domestic makers do. The interior design in flats like these is definitely below a Western standard. It is no different in Taiwan, where houses are bigger. Valentine’s Day is another example. You do not send flowers to the girl’s home, but to her office, so all her colleagues can acknowledge her position. And China nowadays has a system of motorways that matches Spain’s, particularly around the big cities.
I think the fact that many European harbours are somewhat removed from the sea has to do with defence as much as with protection against tides, but my gut feeling is that the latter is more important. Give an admiral worth his salt a good fleet and history has proven that he can sail up the River Thames, break through the protective chain, burn down the British fleet and take home the British flagship in triumph:
The Royal Charles, her draught too deep to be of use in the shallow Dutch waters, was permanently drydocked near Hellevoetsluis as a tourist attraction, with day trips being organised for large parties, often of foreign state guests; after vehement protests by Charles that this insulted his honour, the official visits were ended and Royal Charles was eventually scrapped in 1672.
And maybe even better proof: Copenhagen, Zeebrugge, Dunkirk, Le Havre, Marseille, Algiers, Palermo, etc. are all directly on the seaboard. Many harbours outside of Europe are also on the seaboard, although New York, Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Dakar, Saint Louis (on the Ivory Coast), Cape Town, Bombay, Singapore and Jakarta all share a common history as a colonial trading post. You don’t want a trading post to be too far inland for fear of the native rulers. Sometimes that idea was maintained far too long: Singapore had huge state-of-the art seaside defences in 1941, so the Japanese simply came overland through Malaya. By the way, I do not think seafaring ships went up all the way to Sevilla, they stayed nearer to the coast.
Shanghai is located on the Huangpu, a side river of the Yangtze near to its mouth, so it matches the Hamburg stereotype. I would not be able to proof why Shanghai developed so late, but I could make an educated guess. I expect the culprit to be Hangzhou, the location of Return to Dragon Mountain. Hangzhou is only slightly further inland than Shanghai. It is located where the Yangtze meets the Grand Canal to the north, so its location is even better than Shanghai's. What may have helped also is that Hangzhou has always had a good reputation: “marry in Suzhou, live in Hangzhou, dine in Guangzhou, and die in Liuzhou”. But I can think of a few more reasons. Shanghai’s and Hangzhou’s position for overseas trade is not that particularly good. Close to these places are only Korea and Japan, both countries that closed themselves off for most trade for many centuries. The Japanese were often dangerous pirates. China did most of its foreign trade via Fujian and Guangzhou, two provinces that were much closer to overseas trading partners. The dozen or so typhoons that hit China's coast may also have been important. You mainly find them near Guangzhou and Fujian and not as far north as Shanghai, but you would have to pass through the typhoon zone. The voyage to Guangzhou should be a relatively short one. Fujian and Guangzhou always had an international orientation. They are also the area of origin of most overseas Chinese.
Lola, I checked the Shanghai books in your library. I think Shanghai : The Rise and Fall of a Decadent City would complement the others quite nicely. I think Shanghai was too much a den of inequity to be considered frivolous. Beyond opium and prostitution, there was also gambling, which enjoyed consular protection and even Chiang Kai-shek was a member of a triad. Stella Dong gives a lively description of how in 1949 coolies took out 500,000 ounces of gold bullion from the vaults on the Bund to ship it to Chiang’s stronghold Taiwan.
”Below was a file of coolies paddling out of the bank. I could even make out their hats or sweat rags on their foreheads and their uniforms of indigo tunic and shorty baggy trousers.” As they descended the bank’s steps – chanting, as Shanghai’s coolies were wont to, the familiar “heigh-ho” of the dockyards – the coolies could be seen balancing wrapped parcels of gold bullion on either end of their bamboo poles.
At the same time, people went to Shanghai to try their luck or escape despair. Shanghai was the place some Jews used too escape Europe when it was overrun by the nazis. Among its settlers were also many Russians who had fought for the Whites in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution. They were often desperately poor and some were even pulling rickshaws. They were considered bad for the image of white superiority.
If you would want a novel of modern Shanghai, the only one I have read was Shanghai Baby. It is not really a good book, I think, but it was a tad controversial when it came out. As for music, I have bought a CD with some old Chinese songs when I was in China. I have no idea who the singer is, because I cannot read Chinese. It is real Katzenjammer, but very good at creating a Wong Kar-wai-like atmosphere.
Can you read Russian? I think I can match JC’s short film meant to terrify "American Talibans in fear of tiny cartoon genitalia" with Fokke & Sukke, or Fakko & Sakko as they are called in Russian. Supposedly they are comparable to Oblomov. I do not know if the translations work in Russian. They did not in German.
"Air miles" Friedman's sales probably owe a good deal to passive aggressiveness and numb airport bookstores. For actual buzz, F is the last person to go to, being so far behind the curve that a unit of time was coined in his name. If a phenomenon appears on F's radar, it is pretty much a commonplace to be misunderstood by him.
"Not believing in cultural differences" is too strongly formulated. I think it is often a too easy (and wrong) explanation. Chemists and dentists are product and process-oriented jobs where language skills are not as necessary as in other medical disciplines. In Switzerland, immigrants are also strong in radiology. This initial advantage then bubbles up and sustains itself. As you mentioned the exiles fleeing Nazi Germany and Austria, here is a collection of images, such as the Austrian dentist Dr. Leo Kandel's Chinese medicine license to practice in Beijing in 1939 (this must have been during the Japanese occupation). Also don't miss these 1930s sketches of Shanghai street life.
"The leading household appliance brands, by contrast, are cheaply priced domestic makers." Which just mirrors Western behavior. Philips, Braun, Siemens, Whirlpool, GE, ... Miele - Verlässlichkeit für viele Jahre sounds old school. The old brand names of household appliances (white goods) have seen their margins and businesses erode and have exited the business. In the West, you receive an Asian product decorated with a local label.
There are cultural differences and it is important to communicate (to Americans) that the Chinese are not yellow proto-Americans who speak a funny language. Apart from that, it is observation of local behavior not books about the Chinese/Arab/... mindset that help. I think that many in the West would prefer flowers sent to their work environment (if they aren't employed by the Vatican), so the learning transfer runs both ways.
These Hong Kongers are in desperate need of some intelligent storage systems. Paging IKEA ...
Thanks for your info on harbors and Shanghai. I knew you couldn't resist as soon as I typed London ... The Viking town of Roskilde in Denmark (now featuring a great Viking ship museum) is not situated at water's edge precisely because a surprise attack is much harder to execute on land.
Reading Sarrazin reminds me of the small world, e.g. Christine Lagarde was French finance minister when the fatal decision to break the Maastricht treaty was taken. Sarrazin has tracked down a few morsels which, just like Cameron and Clegg, in a foolish quest for consistency trap her in a march of folly. This great MIT economics family tree reveals that ECB president Mario Draghi, Olivier Blanchard, Paul Krugman and Greek president Lucas Papademos all completed their MIT PhDs in 1977. Add FED chairman Ben Bernanke (MIT PhD 1979) to shout monetary Bingo!
I’d say a guru who lives off the sale of books (like Thomas Friedman) should not be too much ahead of the curve to maximise the income of books. More people will like your book if they can recognise what you talk about. I thought you had read Animal Spirits: How Human Psychology Drives the Economy, and Why It Matters. Here Akerlof and Shiller mention Blau’s research about an equivalent exchange of information:
An early version of exchange theory comes from Peter Blau’s study of government agents involved in complex litigation. The official rules said that they could seek assistance only from their supervisors. Of course the agents did not want to go constantly to supervisors for help. Not only would they be a nuisance, but they would also be admitting their own lack of knowledge and independence. So they systematically violated the rules; they consulted among themselves.
Blau observed the pattern of these consultations and explained it in terms of equity theory. He noticed that the agents had different levels of expertise. It rarely happened, as one might suppose, that low-expertise agents sought advice from those with high expertise. Instead the low-expertise agents gave and received advice from their peers, who also had low expertise. And similarly, high-expertise agents gave and received advice from others with high expertise. Why did this occur?
Because the low-expertise agents had only limited currency to trade. They could offer their gratitude and thanks; and on rare occasions when they sought advice from high-expertise agents, that is what they did. Such gratitude may be initially rewarding, but it eventually wears thin. It also becomes wearing to give. So low-expertise agents might have initially sought the advice of more knowledgeable agents, but they rarely returned. In contrast, with their peers, the exchange took place with trades of comparable value.
I find this very useful in the corporate jungle. I would even say that the success of some consultancy companies like Accenture is based upon this principle.
I would say the way corporations try to market products is an interesting indication of how they see local behaviour. At least they have to formulate what they do and why. You are right that many household appliances have eroded in status, although many Dutch still adhere to the decades-old slogan Miele, er is geen betere. Although people may not care too much about what brand produced their mixer, there are new kitchen products were people want quality: espresso machines, stoves, high quality kitchen knifes, designer glassware, etc. Companies like Miele and Siemens have moved up the ladder by selling complete luxury kitchens. All these products are for sale in Hong Kong, but I do not think they have the market penetration they find here. The Chinese find such brands expensive, but do not blink an eye when buying expensive watches or Mont Blanc pens. Everything for “face”. The dentists and chemists I mentioned are mostly from the Dutch East Indies and speak Dutch fluently. Financial security is very important in the choice of education, just ask any (overseas) university with a lot of Chinese students.
You have not yet convinced me that defence is more important than the tide in positioning a harbour somewhat inland. I know absolutely nothing about the Vikings, except that they raided Dorestad successfully numerous times, despite that the stad was situated pretty deep inland. During the days of the Vikings, ships were vehicles to ship troops and weapons. The cannon was not yet invented. In later centuries ships became floating fortresses with often more than 20 cannon on each side. Such a fortress was of course only useful if the range of its cannon was at least as far as those on the city walls. The defensive value of an inland location should have increased, but there were still many European harbours on the waterfront in the 17th century. In many attacks on harbour cities, troops were first landed on the coast near the city.
The MIT PHD looks impressive, but I’d rather had the bank account of a Goldman Sachs alumnus. The funniest euro-related news I got today was from Nassim Taleb. According to this report Taleb watches the situation in Europe favourably compared to the United States.
Europe’s lack of a centralized government works in its favor, he said.
“The best thing Europe ever did is managing to have members bickering with each other, so you don’t have the big government,” Taleb said. “Centralized government doesn’t work. In Europe they tried to have a powerful Brussels, but what happens when you have a powerful Brussels? You have lobbies hijacking Brussels.”
With Spanish 10-year interest at 6.6666% this afternoon, it will be interesting what kind of measure Brussels will come up with in the coming days. Hopefully, because of all the attention on Europe, we’ll get over this first. The situation in the US and Japan is certainly not much better.
I must admit I failed to finish Animal Spirits, as I didn't find it a compelling read. Shiller has a new book out, too: Finance and the Good Society - 300 pages of arguing "that, rather than condemning finance, we need to reclaim it for the common good. He makes a powerful case for recognizing that finance, far from being a parasite on society, is one of the most powerful tools we have for solving our common problems and increasing the general well-being. We need more financial innovation--not less--and finance should play a larger role in helping society achieve its goals." (book description).
Taleb, who is already peddling his new book out in December, has a good nose for topics but is a sloppy thinker. He will probably mix up the power of evolution (variation + selection), decentralization and competition. The Swiss system is probably what he aspires to, with lots of internal competition and a weak central government that is slow to act - which works fine as long as there is no crisis. The EU's main problem is that its leadership is accountable to no one (except the EU parliament's power to tickle and bore them to death).
Swiss yield curves are now actually negative at the short end. 1% yield for a 30 year government bond is simply crazy.
The CIA "The work of a nation. The center of information" has still not discovered that the Swiss National Bank has a new boss. If they are even unable to stay up to date on public information, no wonder that they are terrible at their job and provide bad information. The bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade may have been the result of a similarly non-updated "updated" status page.
Peter Blau rediscovered Fayol's bridge, named after Frederick Winslow Taylor's French management thinker equivalent Henri Fayol (Wiki). The importance of horizontal communication and the detrimental information starving of vertical information with the old blind man at the top is responsible for much of the flattening of organization structures.
Oh, I like Valentin. Brings to mind Tom Lehrer, or vice versa.
(Tom Lehrer--The Wiener Schnitzel Waltz)
I do not read Fokke & Sukke for their absurdism, but rather as a daily reality check. I do not know why Fokke und Sokke did not really make it in Germany. In Holland the three authors publish a daily cartoon in the conservative and elitist NRC Handelsblad. Half of their jokes relate to the news of the moment and many use specific words that can be difficult to translate. In Germany they produced a daily cartoon on DNews.de, a Dutch investment that went out of business rather quickly. No German paper or website contracted them since. I’d expect they used a lot of their older cartoons for those days where they had specific Dutch interests in their cartoons. Possibly they ran out of old stock. Anyway, you can find a few of their cartoons in German here. Fokke und Sokke does not sound as funny as Fokke en Sukke, though. But it is still better than the names Duck and Birdie they had chosen for an American audience. Anyway, you can check out all their cartoons on their website here.
I do not know if we need more innovation in finance. We certainly need better supervisory board members, but that is another matter. The basics of finance are pretty simple: you have various ownership/liability constructions influencing creditworthiness. You have income from profit sharing, from interest (also in Islamic finance) and from specific claims like options and insurances. You have foreign exchange. All this is traded on markets that can be public or opaque or both. Nothing has changed much in the last 3,000 years, except that we have invented statistical analysis and computers so we can handle more complex calculations and we have collected lots of statistics to support insurance. Statistical analysis has limited value as long as it is based upon the bell curve. Given so few parameters, what kind of financial innovation can you still make? Here a housing association had bought “an innovative derivative” from Deutsche that seems to have been based upon a statistical expectation of the development of interest rates. How it worked exactly I do not know, because all my information is based upon an article from the Handelsblad. The statistical expectation was based upon the bell curve, but the bell curve does not take market developments in a crisis into account. It did not cater for interest rates to fall as low as they do nowadays. It was one of the reasons why the housing associations had to be bailed out. It could no longer afford the collateral: the (unrealised) loss on derivative positions stands at a whopping 2.6 billion euro. More was wrong, though, supposedly including fraud. Management, auditors, supervisory boards: they had all failed to control the finance manager.
Likely, the whole management structure of that organisation had not read The Black Swan, which I found a fine book. I would not rate it as revolutionary. Many of the basics that Mr. Taleb used for his book were known earlier, but he built it into a interesting narrative that popularised tail risk, which is beneficial to us all.
Yield curves are silly and your trip to Sweden is getting more expensive every day. I do not know if the EU’s problem is really that its leadership is accountable to no one. It does not help to give them legitimacy. But suppose they were setting economic policy and accountable to the majority of voters? Transfer payments would quickly be set up from your tax payments to the south while reform would quickly falter. The weak group is bigger than the strong group. The euro zone is too big for such pretences.
Things are not always as easy as being a Goldman Sachs shareholer:
A shareholder said he was concerned about the effect of the current instability in Europe on American companies. “Do you see a way the company can benefit from a possible collapse in the euro zone?” he asked.
Mr. Blankfein said while there may be “short-term opportunities” from the instability, Goldman’s best interest lied in in the long-term strength of European countries.
Humor (and faith) are difficult to transplant. Success depends on translation and adaptation to the new environment. Donald Duck's popularity in Germany was due to Erika Fuchs who added an intellectual layer (such as quoting Goethe) to the duck tales. It was always a bit shocking to be exposed to the lobotomized American Donald (not the one with the toupee).
Another cartoon that didn't succeed abroad is the Belgian Ionesco-esque Le Chat which named Sokrates in German sank like a stone. Its English version from 2010 is not even listed at Amazon.
Success in trading lies in locating fools. City and local governments as well as pension funds and Landesbanken proved to be easy marks for investment bankers. A bit of flattery, a bit of bribery and another financial WMD sold. The Austrian city of Linz recently settled with Deutsche about a toxic investment they sold that a serious (i.e. professional) banker never would have sold to a client. Matt Taibbi also wrote a number of articles about US banks fleecing local governments by selling them toxic investments.
As Goldman's profits now come from trading, the validity of Blankfein's statement is doubtful. In a sane world he would be behind bars for perjury. In the real world, he continues to do God's work, similar to when Venice sacked Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade - I am enjoying Roger Crowley's book about Venice, City of Fortune.
Re Taleb, the Black Swan suffers from three cases of sloppy thinking (which doesn't trouble the earth is flat crowd):
1. The "black swan" (and the white raven, currently indicating the advent of winter in Westeros) used to serve as the example that disproved (falsified to speak Popperian) a statement arrived at by induction. I am not very fond of muddling concepts, but I can live with it. More problematic is point number 2.
2. The new Talebian black swan is an improbable tail event. In reality, a black swan does not occur as a Mendellian fluke among white swans. Black swans live among other black swans where there are no white swans. Thus, the example of a black swan doesn't work as an example of improbability.
3. In the book, Taleb's key example of a black swan is the appearance of Google. Here he jettisons his improbable event as the tech industry's structural constant is the rise of new dominant firms. So, his example doesn't work. He then further weakens his case by mixing in the completely unrelated winner-takes-all effect and power law distributions.
The most troubling aspect of Taleb's black swan is, however, that this beast is only identifiable in hindsight. The black swan thus becomes a convenient excuse - who could have known ...
In a related matter about the flaws of determinism, Cosma Shalizi's recent Crooked Timber post about the impossibility to computationally optimize a planned economy, while internally consistent, suffers from the flawed assumption that we need to optimize not satisfice conditions. Nature doesn't optimize, it only satisfies (see also satisficing. It doesn't seek the best solution, the better (than your competitor) solution is sufficent. Thus a planned economy could very well work heuristically, improving its plans incrementally (your family meal works in the same manner. A bit more butter, please?). The huge waste and errors in nature are an acceptable trade-off.
Apologies for my late response, but I went a bit through an existential crisis this weekend, so much that I started to read fiction (Aboe Bakar, a book that forecasted Al Qaeda in 1893!).
The cause of my angst was that I agreed with Paul Krugman, or agreed with him at least half way. In an interview with the newspaper here he said that the only solution to the euro problems would be more inflation. He was thinking about 4 to 5 percent inflation in Germany and 0 percent in Spain. This should be done through German government borrowing and spending. This would make German products more expensive and would thus create the lower production costs countries like Spain needed. Unfortunately, Mr. Krugman did not say how long you would need that inflation to create the lower production costs that Spain and Italy require.
In a way, I found Mr. Krugman’s solution quite surprising. Mr. Krugman being a Keynesian, I had expected that he would want Germany to reduce its debt to GDP ratio, given that Germany is now at the high end of its macro economic cycle. It should save the money for the next rainy day, particularly if you keep in mind the expected fall of Germany’s labour force (I apologise for the article being in Dutch). Unless of course Mr. Krugman expects Italy and Spain to be able to develop the same strength as Germany, Austria and Finland now show. I would not bet any money on that.
I also liked his back-of-an-envelope calculation of the transfer payments Spain needs, by comparing Spain to Florida:
Mainly as a note to myself: What was once Peter Kenen’s big insight about optimum currency areas is now a commonplace: They’re much more likely to be workable if you have fiscal federalism, so that there are large automatic transfers to depressed regions. Now, I often compare Spain with Florida: both had huge housing bubbles followed by busts. Florida, however, has its retirement and much of its health care paid for from Washington. So how big are the transfers?
So as I read it, between falling tax payments without any corresponding fall in federal benefits, plus safety-net aid — not counting Medicaid, which would make the number even bigger — Florida received what amounted to an annual transfer from Washington of $31 billion plus, or more than 4 percent of state GDP. That’s a transfer, not a loan. And it’s very big. Oh, and we should also add both FDIC costs and Fannie/Freddie losses in Florida. Aid on that scale is inconceivable in Europe as currently constituted. That’s a big problem.
It is. According to Wikipedia, Spain’s GDP is about 1,100,000 million euro. Consequently, a yearly 4% transfer payment would be 44 billion. If the same rule would apply for Italy, the total transfer payment for these two countries would be over 100 billion. From my perspective as a tax payer: Holland is now the 5th economy of the euro zone. But Spain and Italy being much bigger, all of a sudden we would be the number 3 paymaster. These would be substantial amounts that should not be subjected to voters.
So I was almost hoping that Mr. Krugman was as wrong as Joseph Stiglitz was here. You can imagine that I was greatly relieved when I learned today that at least Obama and Cameron seem to agree that there economic woes are completely to blame to Europe and could be solved easily if Germany shuts up and pays:
David Cameron will deliver a blunt message to Angela Merkel in Berlin on Thursday that he and Barack Obama have agreed on the need to flesh out an "immediate plan" to tackle the eurozone crisis.
In a video conference with Merkel and the new French president, François Hollande, ahead of last month’s G8 summit at Camp David, the prime minister recited passages from a speech in Manchester in which he warned of a "remorseless logic" that stronger parts of a single currency help weaker parts.
Seeing these politicians at work you almost long for a nice old scandal with Goldman Sachs. I find it disappointing that everybody is always attacking investment bankers for selling products the buyers did not understand. I would say the managers and supervisors who bought these products deserve even more to be fined and put behind bars. Many a supervisor of a global conglomerate spends probably 2 weeks a year on its tasks and expects somewhere between 20K and 50K for that. Most of the time they are chosen for connections to governments, trade unions or other organisations, or because they understand marketing. They are the kind of people that usually claim you need “diversity” in a board. Victims like cities and Landesbanks should primarily blame the problems they have to themselves. Actually, in Spain the regional banks did not even need derivatives to get into trouble. In Spain the big commercial banks have relatively little problems. It’s the banks that were governed by politicians that created the mess that we now all need to pay for if it is up to them. Now they are consolidating four banks overexposed to the Spanish real estate market into one big bank. What kind of miracle would improve the consolidated balance sheet of these four banks is beyond my comprehension. An economist I know spoke to various Spanish banks in the last few months. He was appalled by the lack of data they could show him.
I think you are a bit harsh on Nassim Taleb’s Black Swan. He meant to say that people thought black swans could not exist, because they had never seen one. This is irrespective of the gene pool. Mr. Taleb’s message is “expect the unexpected”, and that is not a comfortable excuse. Mr. Taleb ran a hedge fund that was trying to profit from the unexpected, making no profit or small losses in normal times, but hitting the jackpot in times of crises and other unexpected events.
I agree with your comments on the theoretical feasibility of a planned economy, although I find the comparison to nature not so lucky. Mother Nature cares about procreation and the continuation of a line of genes. She does not care about the welfare of individual human beings, elephants or penguins. But the individual animals do: they would want the finetuning to go into the right direction. Equally, whilst experimenting could lead to satisficing conditions, I do not believe that political leaders could ever remotely produce a sustainable economy in the long run without a market mechanism. I’d expect everybody who has ever worked for a large organisation or for a government organisation will agree. Well, nearly everybody.
Equally, I agree with Mr. Taleb that black swans are good. They are great equalisers. They stand between us and a dictatorship of the lucky few.
So Obama helped reduce your troubles by killing the n-th number two of Al Qaeda in his latest Terror Tuesday. Stalin had his execution lists, now they have neat folders with pictures (and for the sick of mind, drone live-feeds of the executions). The Nobel prize committee must be really proud of its decision when the mourners at a funeral are blown up. At least, there exists a bureaucratic procedure to apply to declare dead victims innocent post festum. Reading the comments at Crooked Timber, there are few good options for improvements across the pond.
You probably have already read Martin Wolf's (Krugman channeling) FT lament that "panic has become all too rational". We are really at a The Guns of August moment. Everybody knows that the US and European elites are open-eyed driving the economy over the cliff. Currently, Spain tries to blackmail Europe in paying for its sunk cost of foolish real estate investments. The value of these monster in concrete lining the Spanish coast will never recover their value and need to be written off. While consumer deposits should be protected by the government, the rest of their banks should be sent into bankruptcy. It simply makes no sense to make investors whole for their foolish investment decisions. The Spanish certainly learned from the Americans how to create too-big-to-fail institutions, amalgamating their banks into one giant hairball to choke Europe. To improve the mood, have a look at Germany from the sky (which is also available to view in the ZDF mediathek).
As Switzerland is accumulating huge amounts of Euros it doesn't want, I dream about the Swiss buying up the Spanish banking sector and cleaning up the mess. Unfortunately, this would require stepping on many Spanish politicians' toes and could become toxic quickly.
My other dream would be for the Chinese to deploy a Deng Xiaoping plan to put America back to work. While China could use their dollars to stimulate their own lagging economy, this would drive up their currency. So, the next best thing would be to stimulate US growth and doing some good there (such as offering incentive packages to install Chinese solar panels, rebuilding transport and telecom infrastructure as well as investing in US worker training). China could provide the necessary clout to counter the death grip of the plutocracy (just as the US pushed Europe's aristocrats over the cliff in the 20th century).
If the black swans take the form of the Black Death (or WWII), the equalizer comes at great cost. The trouble with the idea of "black swans" is their unpredictability and the Noah/Cassandra problem of convincing very serious but embarrassingly stupid powerful people. Goldman Sachs is guilty too because it knowingly sold defective products to "muppets". Regulation prevents contaminated toys from being sold to children. Financial weapons of mass destruction should be prohibited from OTC sales.
I admire the efficiency of the pricing mechanism (as told by its chief prophet Hayek). Sometimes, it doesn't work though. Think health care, education or real estate. The pricing mechanism has the unfortunate tendency to hide inequality and power imbalances behind a technocratic veil. The god-like "invisible hand" is not a fair arbitrator.
For an example of the pricing mechanism in action, City of Fortune ends with a tantalizingly short mention of the lightning fast (within the first decade of the 16th century) re-routing of the spice trade from Venice to Portugal. Cutting out the Arab middle man halved the cost. Spicy!
Did Mr. Obama reduce my troubles? I was not aware of this. I have not paid much attention to the current campaign of counter terrorism with drones. Could you equal counter terrorism to counter guerilla activities? My understanding of counter guerilla and human rights is very much coloured by the bigger-than-life general Abdul Haris Nasution, the only man who led a guerrilla and a counter guerrilla and wrote a book about it. I have not read Mr. Nasution's book, but I have seen interviews with him on television. Basically, Mr. Nasution said that if you start a guerrilla war, you accept that your counterparty will commit war crimes (and you may use that in your propaganda activities). You may find some of the ideas of this former Dutch officer summarised here. Some newer thinking can be found here. The author is an Aussie, so I do not know if this matches what Americans think and do. Also, fighting Al Qaeda is different from other counter guerrilla activities, because America cannot occupy the territory where the guerrillas operate. This makes the primary aim, engaging the local population for your cause, very difficult. I have no idea how much the Americans realise in this field in their war against Al Qaeda. Of course you can also deal with resistance in the way the Syrian government operates, but that would be very much against Western values, however. And you may want to aks the question if Al Qaeda is still a threat to Western security. I’d say it is, but not as powerful as it used to be.
I am afraid your dream of China putting America back to work would get you a rude awakening. First of all: why would China, a country where hundreds of millions of people live below the poverty line, need to help the country that claims to be the best and the richest in the world? Secondly, if the Chinese develop infrastructure as they do in countries like Poland and Suriname as well as in Africa, they do so with a maximum of bang for their buck. They employ almost no locals, but use Chinese workers who work extensive hours. Little of the cash spent remains in the country where the infrastructure is created. Given that you are a follower of Paul Krugman, you’d be more interested in the financial stimulus than in the infrastructure created, so this plan would be mostly counterproductive. I would even say, it is as much in line with the ideas of Mr. Krugman as borrowing money to give tax relief to the rich.
The BBC discussion with Mr. Krugman is quite embarrassing indeed. Still, I perceived Mr. Krugman like your average guru with a book to sell. Without studying the British case very much, he proposes to apply American medicine to a foreign environment. Britain is a much smaller country and smaller countries tend to be more exposed to what happens outside their territories. This also applies to macro economic performance. I do not know so much about the British situation, but here in Holland we purchase more than 60% of our goods and services overseas. Consequently, if we stimulate the economy through borrowing, more than half of the stimulus disappears to Belgium, Germany and beyond. These places will not join in paying back the loans, however. I was intrigued by Mr. Krugman’s (unconditional) remark that stimulus leads to improved long-term fiscal income. I know from his blog that some people try to develop a theoretical model underpinning this idea, but I did not know that it was already “proven”. I would also like to see some examples of how that worked in practice, as far as economists can prove anything. I agree with Mr. Krugman that some countries with a large public sector have proven to be very resilient in the last crisis. These countries were all located in Scandinavia, and Sweden and Finland went through a downturn in the 1990’s and early noughties. These countries have had large public sectors for most of the post-1945 period. You cannot transplant that so easily to England. And you may claim that Germany realised the same resilience with a smaller public sector, also because of structural reforms before the downturn. Giving government jobs to the young? That is probably a good solution in America, which likes having a large army. Requirements for infanterymen are low enough. You could sell it as an expensive plan against obesity.
Gosh, you like Leonard Cohen? I thought you were from the Bananarama generation? In terms of criticism of European policies, I think Martin Wolf is smarter than Paul Krugman, e.g. here. As an Austrian taxpayer, you may also enjoy this article. If the Greeks were to leave the euro, which I would expect takes at least 3-4 more weeks and probably more, the divorce is going to be really messy. Normally, institutions like the IMF first write down debt, then try to force a country to adjust spending to (almost) a primary surplus, before it injects money. This way such global organisations always get there money back. But this time they have been propping up Greece for more than a year already. I would consider it highly unlikely that IMF-members and the ECB (with its very limited capital basis) will ever get its money back in full. That will challenge the trust put in such institutions. Neither does it make me happy that Italian reforms are stalling:
Government officials, speaking privately, say Mr Monti’s prowess on the international stage can no longer cover up for a government that has lost its way at home, with several unelected ministers thinking more about their political futures and unwilling to take on the “big powers” and interest groups that resist reform.
Actually, you do not even have to believe in stimulus to concur with Martin Wolf saying:
Before now, I had never really understood how the 1930s could happen. Now I do. All one needs are fragile economies, a rigid monetary regime, intense debate over what must be done, widespread belief that suffering is good, myopic politicians, an inability to co-operate and failure to stay ahead of events.
One thing he has not pointed at yet is that with current policies Germany’s (and Austria’s) long-term cash flow forecast is about as bad as France’s . Strangely, the European Union is not slamming Germany for that.
The pricing mechanism is great, but cannot be less myopic than the human animal in general. The invisible hand is not a fair arbitrator, but that is not how Mother Nature (or God if you like) has designed the world. Life on earth is all about eat and be eaten. I see the price mechanism also as a law of nature. Just like with other animals that live in groups, there are always negotiations between human beings. Also: the human animal is not egalitarian. It accepts leaders who get better food and more opportunities at procreation. I agree that a Black Swan may bring great costs. That is why it is better to have regular, smaller upheavals. But this is not what we are designing in the economic sphere at the moment. We are creating bigger banks, central clearing institutions, etc. that can withstand smaller crises with ease, but will create enormous havoc in the rare cases that they do break.
Yes, the change in the spice route reduced the costs greatly. This despite the fact that by modern standards the costs to bring these spices to markets were tremendous. I still need to go to Amsterdam’s maritime museum to check how much cargo an East India Man could actually carry. I doubt if it was more than 2-3 modern containers. For that you needed to equip a ship with 30-40 men and arms for a voyage of 4-5 months (one-way trip). On the other hand of the world you needed fortified trading stations armed with soldiers, accountants, a minister, etc. Peperduur, as expensive as pepper, is an expression still used in the Dutch language. The first voyage to the Indies brought enormous profits, but once a regular delivery was established prices fell again strongly. Pepper remained a mainstay of trade with Asia until the end of the 17th century, when textiles and tea became more important. Given the size of ships, globalisation must have been restricted to products with high added value (i.e. luxury products or medicine).
Re counter-terrorism, the key question is where do you draw the line in forward defense. Are you really defending America at the Khyber Pass? What goals have to be met to declare the operation completed? In my view, counter-terrorism should be a police task. Terrorists are criminals first. An open society has to live with the risk of crime (and terrorism). Prevention and a swift working judicial system are the way to combat it. Killing endless no. 2 is not the way forward (just as the CIA trained Bin Laden to fight against the Soviets, today's CIA is busy training the West's enemies of tomorrow.
Spain's TARP shows that the banksters have perfected the transfer of public money into their pockets with little to no strings attached. Rules and laws again prevent any supervision. As, even in Europe, it is difficult to raise taxes, the European taxpayer will be bled only indirectly: The government contribution to the rail system will be cut ("efficiency"). The railroads will cut infrastructure investment and further raise prices (The Swiss railways SBB CEO who had sharply raised prices said that Swiss rail tickets are still below the Schmerzpunkt (pain threshold, one of those wonderfully evil German expressions that defy proper translation). Expect further probing of the Schmerzpunkt for all public services (Passports used to cost around 50 CHF, the new biometric wonder sets you back 145 CHF).
The Wall Street Journal Europe in its weekend edition, of all places, had a story about this phenomenon in form of cutbacks in French local public infrastructure investment. Why should any bank engage in the boring and not very profitable financing of water treatment in times of a simple carry trade of receiving ECB money at 1 % and buying government bonds at 5%? This is stupid pro-cyclical local austerity. I finished Sarrazin's book (meh) which ends in a warning not to sacrifice German interests to a European Kumbaya. He prefers to pay Dutch for his meals. The Club Med wants Germany to pick up the tab (and it looks like they are winning).
Krugman flagged an (in my view) excellent summary of the Chinese economic system. The strange recreation of beautiful Hallstatt in China. The Chinese Hallstatt lacks the creepy overhanging mountain of the original whose shade allows only limited amounts of sunshine.
From China to the Indian ocean: I found the BBC's 6-part Indian Ocean with Simon Reeve quite worthwhile. The shocking difference in public investment between say Madagascar and Australia make the copious Chinese strategic investments in the Seychelles and Sri Lanka worthy (but still somewhat dangerous in geopolitical terms, a new colonialism). While Reeve is sometimes overdoing the catastrophe tourism, his advocacy against Western overfishing in the Indian ocean is important. Indonesia's Sharia vice squads look quite frightening.
When Fukuyama noted in his review of Why Nations fail that Robinson and Acemoglu were not historians, he was actually very, very kind. I don't know why the two authors shifted from their statistical to a highly detrimental inductive Friedmanesque anecdote approach, but the results are terrible. Methodologically, you can't prove anything by induction (only falsify). Unfortunately, their anecdotes are so layered with basic errors that the even the good parts become indigestible. It is the book equivalent of a meal sprinkled with e.coli (which fits into their libertarian approach where economic self-interest of companies will prevent any oil spills or food contamination ...).
The book is riddled with basic errors that any person who masters Google and Wikipedia should have eliminated. There is no catcher in the rye: From small wrong terms such as "princep" for "princeps", to ignorant observations - they marvel that Strasbourg quickly acquired a Gutenberg printing press. Just reading his Wiki entry would have revealed that before he went to Mainz, he lived - in Strasbourg. Pointing out the difference between Germany and France, they fail to realize that Strasbourg then was a free Imperial (German) city. I found it quite charming to speak Swiss German with some of the locals speaking Alsatian (both are (German) Alemannic dialects - the declining Alsatian language skills of the young generations causes trouble for nearby Basel as replacing 50.000 French close to retirement age cross-border workers is difficult). They also wonder why Cracow had a printing press. A bit of curiosity would have helped them discover that Cracow is home to one of the oldest European universities (and used to be the capital of Poland).
They scold Austrian Empress Maria Theresia for being adverse to entrepreneurship and innovation. An argument out of willful ignorance: Among many institutions, Maria Theresia founded the world's first military academy. the Theresian Military Academy, instituted the most prestigious Austrian military order (Military Order of Maria Theresia), an elite school called Theresianum. She attracted one of the world's foremost physician to Vienna, Dutch Gerard van Swieten whose reform led to the establishment (under Joseph II) of the largest general hospital in all of Europe (and started the prominence of the Viennese school of medicine which was at the bleeding edge of knowledge during much of the 19th to the early 20th century). Commercially, Maria Theresia nationalized the Augarten porcelain manufacture (the second-oldest in Europe after Meißen). The Habsburgs were not against progress or efficiency (as long as it didn't endanger religion). My favorite case is her son Joseph's II failed drive for re-usable caskets (killed by the Viennese fondness of a schene Leich).
They also scold Franics I of Austria of restricting freedom of information - in 1809 of all dates. I am no friend of the Habsburgs but scolding them for not being all open government during a time Napoleon campaigned in Austria and conquered Francis' capital city of Vienna? This is a careless hack job unworthy even of a drunk, sleep-deprived undergraduate. Sprinkle the copious mistakes with a soft veiled racism (in Congo, poor Belgian King Leopold only continued the vile local practices), add plenty of "Communism bad" and "USA! USA! USA!" as well as a lot of Panglossian libertarianism (the poor are poor out of their own misery) to get the e.coli essence of this work.
That two Ivy League professors could produce such a shoddy work and receive the praise of many highly credentialed (Republican) hacks at Ivy institutions is exhibit A "Why Nations fail".
Isn’t it a luxury to consider counter-terrorism always a police task? This may work in places like the Basque Country or Northern Ireland, where violence was localised, mostly aimed at the authorities and small in scale. E.g. during the conflict about Indonesia’s independence there were large groups of thugs in the countryside that combined guerrilla activities with looting and murder of farmers and traders. This is not something your average suburban constable can solve with good detective work over a prolonged period of time. Al Qaeda is hiding in failed states where that same constable would not even get a visa. Al Qaeda can send its bombs via mail or human mules on airplanes. Obviously, America must make use of local intelligence to find these people. It can’t go and chase after the organisers, because these are hiding in another jurisdiction. All it can try to do is disrupting such organisations becoming more established and better organised. The Americans have found an effective way to do so for the short term. But too much collateral damage would harm its long-term interests. The dependence on local intelligence makes you very vulnerable to involvement in local conflicts. From a legal perspective it may be difficult to justify. It is a very risky strategy.
Spain’s bankers corrupt? It depends upon your definition of a banker. Spain’s real banks do quite fine, given the circumstances that they need to work under. Banco Santander’s solvability should be about as good as the state’s solvability itself. Spain’s woes are more the result of utter political incompetence at cajas that were under political supervision. Neither the ministry of finance nor the central bank has done anything about it. As a tourist you may have been impressed by Santiago Calatrava’s Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias. Now let us take a look at how Valencia financed its follies:
"They said it was all to put Valencia on the map, and that's what they did, put us on the map, for corruption, for waste ... bringing shame on Valencia," said Ignacio Blanco, a member of the regional legislature for the leftist Esquerra Unida party.
The chagrin is valid:
The Generalitat, as the Valencian government is known, is sitting on 4 billion euros in unpaid bills to street cleaners, healthcare suppliers and other providers. The central government is now providing emergency lines of credit to get the providers, many of them small companies, paid.
The Guardian had an article about this and other cases. Certainly there was great diversity in the Boards of these banks:
Boards were stuffed with political placements or people who had little idea about banking – including, in one case, a supermarket checkout worker. They often rubber-stamped decisions. In some cajas they were rewarded with well-paid positions on the boards of subsidiary companies as well as with luxury foreign trips and soft loans.Trips to India, China or Chicago and the hundreds of millions of euros in loans to executives, board members and their families formed part of the gravy train of political favouritism and cronyism. Chairmen were often unqualified politicians, with academic investigators finding a close relationship between the size of a bank's bad loan book and the inexperience, lack of qualifications and degree of politicisation of the chairman.
And this is how collusion worked in another bank:
"I didn't see the official minutes as the law requires," said Jesús Navarro, another board member. "Except on a computer screen.". Analysing the accounts would have required her to be a superwoman, complained one CAM board member. "I didn't have sufficient financial, legal or accountancy skill… board members were not legally required to have any sort of qualifications or experience," agreed fellow board member Juan Pacheco.This left control of CAM in the hands of chairman Modesto Crespo, director general Roberto López Abad and a few senior executives, they said, with the board effectively rubberstamping their decisions. "There was barely any debate and votes were … unanimous," said Pacheco. "One board meeting a year was held abroad," said Navarro. "I refused to go on principle." But he admitted attending a meeting hundreds of miles away in San Sebastian with some 50 other people: "Obviously I went with my wife, and the rest of the board took their partners too." Over six years, board members and senior executives – or their families – received €161m in loans, often at soft interest rates, according the Workers Commissions trade union. Senior executives doubled their salaries over the same period.
Of course one of the reasons why European tax payers need to bail out these banks now is that they borrowed heavily from other European institutions. ING for example is supposedly in for some 45 billion. That is reckless lending. On the other hand, should we now get central supervision of banks with employees from the various national central banks? And then, even Germany wants only supervision of systemic banks, not of its Landesbanken, that were all badly managed, probably with a healthy dose of collusion.
It seems to be dawning in some places that these problems may be too big to solve for northern Europe.
Germany has all the conditions for a similar backlash. The country’s voters have every reason to feel misled about the euro. They were once promised that the single currency involved a no-bailout clause that would prevent German taxpayers from having to support other eurozone countries. But Germany has already had to accept potential liabilities of €280bn to fund Europe’s various bailouts – and there will be further demands to come. Simply funding Germany’s capital contribution to the European Stability Mechanism will increase the country’s budget deficit this year from €26bn to €35bn.
Somewhere else I read that current support (mainly in the form of loans) stood at about 25% of GDP, an amount that Germany can still stomach. I did get the impression that Mrs. Merkel seems to have a stop-loss position somewhere:
I think this is a major misreading of what the Germans are up to. My guess is that the Chancellor and her advisers have taken a look at the legal and political situation in Germany and, as the Americans like to say, “done the math” on the potential liabilities Germany is being asked to take on – and have concluded that there are some steps they cannot take.
The Germans know – for example – that there are over €2 trillion worth of bank deposits in Italy, Spain and Greece. Do they really want to stand behind all of that? Some will tell them that that is the only way to stop a catastrophic bank-run. But what if banks start to collapse anyway, and German guarantees start to be called in. That is the kind of thing that Mrs Merkel is thinking of, when she says that “Germany’s strength is not infinite.”
Beyond the financial stop-loss position there is of course a political stop-loss position:
As a senior Dutch politician who shares the German view, puts it: “We cannot push through a banking union when the French have just cut their retirement age to 60 and we have raised ours to 67.” From the Dutch and German point of view, it is unfair for their citizens to underwrite the banks of countries using their own money to pay social benefits that are more generous than those on offer in Germany or the Netherlands.
I would recommend this senior Dutch politician to have a look at the German government’s pension liabilities and German household balance sheets. As mentioned in message 27, Germany’s pension liabilities are huge. The recent Moody’s report on Dutch banks had an overview of the household assets and liabilities as a percentage of GDP of some European countries. Holland had 300% of GDP in liquid and illiquid assets and 130% in liabilities, which is hardly considered adequate. The UK does better with 295% assets and 100% liabilities. Both these countries’ assets are currently depressed by the slum in financial markets. Supposedly, the Germans are less hurt by this problem. But the Germans have only about 190% of GDP as liquid and illiquid assets and 60% in liabilities. That is far worse than those lazy Italians with 225% assets and 45% of liabilities. If Germans want to retire as they do right now, they will really have to sell their Mercedeses and live in RV’s. Unless of course voters will force the Bundesregierung to inflate national debt. Ah, Europe is such a great place even if we forget about the Greeks for a moment.
Meanwhile, the collusion between government and mafia in China is nothing new. As I learned from The Dragon Syndicates, even Dr. Sun Yat-sen was a member of a triad organisation. Not unlike the Sicilian mafia, the triads were rooted in resistance to the Manchu “occupation”. How deep the Chinese government is infiltrated is a great unknown, as far as I know. The recreation of Hallstadt in Northeast Asia is nothing special. There are many themed quarters around cities like Shanghai, where housing is in the English country, the Dutch or the German style. The Japanese do not do this as far as I know, but they have amusement parks with other nations as a theme. There is at least a German and a Dutch one. The Dutch one even has a copy of Her Majesty’s palace. It may have helped here that Dutch palaces are smaller than the ones in England, Germany and France. What is more interesting is the attitude to buildings and heritage in these countries. The Japanese write off buildings in 15 years, and they averagely last about 40. China has almost no buildings that are much older. The Cultural Revolution and greedy real estate developers are only partly to blame for this. The Red Guards could destroy such a large percentage of China’s heritage, because there was already little left. In Hong Kong buildings last about 50 years, and I’d say that the fear of ghosts is only one of the factors. Simon Leys has written an interesting essay about this subject that you can find here.
I am sorry to hear that Why Nations Fail is such a shoddy work. The subject is interesting enough. What about the book’s basic premise? That institutions matter is beyond a reasonable doubt, I would say. Governments can drive economies into the ground and there are clear differences between the performance of East and West Germany as well as between North and South Korea. The finer details however, are more difficult to judge. But then, an economy is a system that always has stronger and weaker points.
Besides Why Nations Fail, Nial Fergusson’s Civilization: The West and the Rest is another recent book about the importance of institutions that was published quite recently. Last night I saw the first part of the BBC-series based upon the book. I was not impressed. And that was not because of the funny spelling of the word “civilisation”.
With the author trying to hide his Scottish accent behind a stiff upper lip, all I saw was self congratulatory British posing. The subject was the “killer-app” “competition”. It started with a list of Chinese inventions from before the Ming, which was then juxtaposed against primitive Medieval England. Mr. Fergusson then used Zheng He and Vasco da Gama as examples of a difference in attitude: Vasco da Gama came to make money. The role of spreading Catholicism among the Eastern heathens was completely wiped under the carpet. The story then continued with the Macartney Embassy, when Emperor Qianlong famously said he was not interested in trade with the West, although Britain produced mightily interesting “time pieces”.
If this proofs anything to me, then it is that openness to new ideas and developments is good. It says little about competition. First of all, there was no discussion of the causes of China’s earlier inventiveness and the quality and quantity of competition at that time. Nor did it say anything about economic organisation within China at the time at the end of the 18th century. No surprises that The Great Divergence: China, Europe, and the Making of the Modern World Economy holds China quite at par with the West until decades after that time. And why wasn’t Medieval China compared to Italy, in the Middle Ages the most modern part of Europe? It also did not say anything about how well Portugal developed in the centuries after da Gama, not to mention that one example of “competition” is a gross simplification of 3,000 years of recorded human history.
I appreciate you cannot cover items in the same amount of detail as a book of 432 pages, but this is appalling feel good television. Still, where can I apply to become a BBC location researcher?
Niall Ferguson has long jumped the shark. I put him in my mental spam filter of courtiers and intellectual prostitutes (Tyler Cowen, Greg Mankiw, David Brooks, ...). Their writings include no information, they just repeat that the old, rich, white men are doing a heck of a job and the world should follow their orders. The only difference is the level of mendacity and denial of reality they are willing to engage in to arrive at this pre-set conclusion.
Last year, I watched the Ferguson's "docu" series which is so intellectually lazy and flawed that I decided not to read his book. I mainly watched it for the scenery. The travel budget is impressive. Sad to see it wasted on such a flawed product. Consider that this man is educating today's George Bushes at Harvard.
The situation reminds me of the corrupt Catholic Church before the Reformation. Professorships, opinions, media etc are all for sale. Paul Krugman plays the role of Erasmus, a fairly conservative thinker who wants to gently push the church back to good management practices. The "devilish" Krugman only wants US states to rehire teachers, fire- and policemen, fill the pot holes and repair bridges as well as offer kids a good education and the population health care and social security. All of which a developed economy can and should provide for its members.
What the world needs is, however, a new Martin Luther and, more importantly, a new Frederick III of Saxony offering sanctuary and resources to rebuild the institutions and foundations of economics and social science.
The book Why nations fail is its own poster case for how the system is failing. Fukuyama's words about the book "Like many other works making use of history but written by economists, the Acemoglu and Robinson volume contains some pretty problematic facts and interpretations." must be parsed as filled with howlers and false conclusions that would merit a fail grade at undergraduate levels. We are not talking about tiny errors here and there. We are in Bill and Ted territory. Any decently educated reader should catch at least a few. A total failure at Crown/Random/Bertelsmann.
Also a total failure by the many blurbers such as Niall Ferguson, who at least plays a historian on TV. The reviews in the media have been flawed too. Jared Diamond and Francis Fukuyama at least were honest enough to hint at the book's flaws. Events such as James McPherson shredding John Keegan's error-laden Civil War book in the NY Times are no longer deemed acceptable among the courtiers. The legion of praising hacks either did not notice or chose to ignore the nudity of two authors' arguments and facts. After all, Acemoglu and Robinson sing the canon: Praised be old, rich, white men.
You have to go very meta to see the two actually castigate the US oligarchy when they flail poor Liberia for not prosecuting Charles Taylor: "the Liberian government had no interest in bringing charges against Taylor for what he did in Liberia. Isn’t that strange? Doesn’t Liberia have a democratically elected Nobel Peace Prize winning president in Ellen Johnson Sirleaf? Why wouldn’t she and the Liberian government go after Charles Taylor and bring some degree of justice to his numerous victims in Liberia?" There is a certain other country currently led by a Nobel prize winner who elected not to prosecute (self-admitted) war criminals and fraudsters ...
Acemoglu and Robinson are master acrobats dancing and swirling around ignoring the big elephant in the room: "This makes us believe that, though the unions, when they have the power, can also act as extractively as other groups in pursuing their interests at the expense of the rest of us, they are not the main elites threatening the inclusivity of Western institutions. That being said, it is probably true that unions have been in a more rent-seeking mode in the second half of the 20th century compared to their pivotal role in the development of inclusive institutions in the 19th and early 20th centuries." Let's go after the US union mice, instead of dealing with the power of the plutocrats.
The book is at its most callous when the two act all colorblind in the Stephen Colbert mode, such as castigating the functioning (white-owned) farms with the deficient (black-owned) farms without taking the country's history into account. Are you really colorblind if all your good guys just happen to be white and all your bad guys black or yellow (Communists of any color get assigned to the second team)? I wonder whether they have seen Team America? Acemoglu and Robinson is filled with "some more equal than others" math: Slaves in the US are discounted in their inclusiveness calculus ("land of the free") whereas Austria-Habsburg's ignorant Hungarian and Rumanian peasants are an indicator of exclusion. There is one difference that jumps into my eye that the two authors persistently refuse to see ...
I am interested in reading Chris Hayes' The Twilight of the Elites America After Meritocracy whose first sentence, however, starts with the standard trope of the gliterati (see also Rachel Maddow): "Over the last decade, a nation accustomed to greatness and progress has had to reconcile itself to an economy that seems to be lurching backwards." Hello, ever heard about the United States during the final years and after the Vietnam War until it became "Morning in America"? In the Dustbowl of the 1930s, Americans literally ate and breathed dirt. Progress and greatness were always stop-and-go.
Following this review at Crooked Timber, Hayes' argument about meritocracy seems wrong too. Meritocracy isn't failing. It just becomes steeper and steeper in a winner-takes-all environment (Steve Jobs, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama are poster boys that meritocracy still works).
The French revolution happened because the bourgeoisie was cut off from advancement. US plutocrats know better and let anyone join the top ten percent. The life of the other ninety percent doesn't interest them beyond panem et circenses. Which brings me back to the interesting question of how to reform a system. Acemoglu and Robinson crude concept fails to provide a managerial framework of improving an existing system with "bad" power relationships.
On a more positive note, the two-minute travel video approach should become more common.
Two minutes in Asia? That is not enough for me to finish even a cha siu bao, not to mention a decent bowl of nasi rawon. That little film is pure torture for a wage slave like me.
So let us get back to your old rich white men. It might be because you are Swiss German, but I really feel you take it all far too seriously. Let me use Niall Ferguson to proof my case. When I looked up what will be the subject of Civilization: The West and the Rest tonight I came upon a quotation from the book that I had to check in the book itself. But even though the series has just started on television here, there was only one copy of the book for sale in Amsterdam’s largest bookstore. It seems as if readers recognise that it does not merit much attention. Secondly, people like Mr. Ferguson are not addressing you or me. Mr. Ferguson is addressing Brits and their descendants only, as he makes very clear at the end of his book:
But what are the foundational texts of Western civilization, that can bolster our belief in the almost boundless power of the free individual human being? I would suggest the King James Bible, Isaac Newton's Principia, John Locke's Two Treatises of Government, Adam Smith's Moral Sentiments and Wealth of Nations, Edmund Burke's Recollections on the Revolution in France and Charles Darwin's Origin of Species -- to which should be added to William Shakespeare's's plays selected speeches of Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill. If I had to select a single volume as Koran, it would be Shakespeare's complete works.
Not only are the founders of Western civilisation all dead white men, they are also all British (well, the King James Bible was only translated by Brits and Lincoln was the offspring of émigrés) and they all died between 300 and 50 years ago. I think you could discuss the merits of reading Charles Darwin versus a modern book about the Evolution Theory and its consequences for modern (Western) thought. But where are Plato, Spinoza, Montesquieu or Schumpeter? Civilization: The West and the Rest is a feel-good work and that is how it should be treated.
But please keep in mind that teel-good non-fiction is not the monopoly of conservatives. Until well into the 1980’s bearded left wing sociologists and the like were producing equivalent nonsense. They served their interests through well-paid jobs in government and universities. The Fergusons of today were educated by these men. The students turned a lot more conservative than their teachers, so the teachings had a limited effect. Studying engineering or medical science might be serious business, but studying social sciences, law, business or economics are pretty useless, whether it is Harvard or somewhere else. Besides chasing the opposite sex and having odd jobs to finance a gap year of travelling, the only useful things you can do when studying such “sciences” are drinking beer and debating. All other knowledge you obtain is mostly useless in the real world. The useful knowledge, like accounting for business and economics, is mostly forgotten. And even that does not matter much: you can still get a Nobel Prize.
So isn’t it more interesting to see the beam in our own eyes instead of the mote in our brother’s? Shouldn’t we talk about real problems, like the deadlock in Europe? I am sure you wholeheartedly support Paul Krugman who basically stated that northern Europe should stop whining and support Club Med, because things are not different in God’s Own Country:
So it comes as something of a shock to look at Eurostat data (pdf) on real GDP per capita (or productivity, which look similar). Sure, Greece and Portugal are relatively poor, with GDP per capita of 82 and 77 percent, respectively, of the EU average; this means roughly 76 and 71 percent of the eurozone average, since the euro countries are a bit richer than the EU as a whole. Meanwhile, Germany is at 120 percent of the EU, or 112 percent of the EZ.But it’s no different, really, than the US situation (look under per capita GDP). Alabama is at 74 percent of the US average, Mississippi at 67, with New England and the Middle Atlantic states at 118 and 116.
What he fails to mention is that the paymasters have very little control over how those subsidised spend their money. In the US many programmes are federal and apply equally everywhere. That is not the case in Europe. Also, it would mean that northern Europe would reduce support for its own weak to support the south if budgets would remain equal. Actually, Europe has plenty of savings, enough to fund any programme Brussels has yet come up with. It is all a matter of lack of trust in institutions, and you cannot make such institutions overnight. The euro-crisis is a crisis of institutions and that crisis is one between states, not just between the public and the state. You may even say that the only country where the crisis is seen as one between the public and the state is Greece.
Just to be nice to any Anglo readers, as this column remarked, at least the Britis government made the calculations and thought things did not add up the way it was presented. “Continental politicians feel little need to make such calculations”. Supposedly, in the privacy of conferences they admit that the euro is an expensive mistake. But it would be more expensive to break it up.
I read your review of Europa braucht den Euro nicht: Wie uns politisches Wunschdenken in die Krise geführt hat and found it more positive than other reviews I have read. However, the real estate booms were not the monopoly of the south. Scandinavia, Holland and Britain had them too. The newspaper here now brings a series of articles how the city of Amsterdam used the income of land leases to subsidise social housing as much as expensive office locations.
You are a brave man, just reading the ingredients of Rawon soup - a ground mixture of garlic, shallot, keluak, ginger, candlenut, turmeric, red chili and salt sauteed with oil - sets my throat on fire.
What angers me is that Ferguson and his rich masters. are piece-by-piece destroying the agora, the commons, the fabrics of the republic. Public infrastructure and public discussion is looted and degraded. Ferguson et al. are bad faith actors, whose bad ideas are crowding out better ideas.
Ferguson is a consummate bullshit artist. Frankfurt's essay truly catches the essence of the neoliberal conservative movement (which includes Tony Blair). They don't care about the truth or playing by the rules, because they never have to face negative consequences. The opening lines of The Wire provide a perfect example:
McNulty: I got to ask you. If every time Snotboogie would grab the money and run away, why'd you even let him in the game?
McNultyMcNulty: If Snotboogie always stole the money, why'd you let him play?
Witness: You got to, this is America, man.
Ferguson probably never read those seminal works he listed. Just like most Marxists never read much of old Karl, conservatives would be shocked to discover the actual views of the Scottish moral philosopher Adam Smith. Ad fontes! Darwin is probably mostly listed as a tribute to Social Darwinism. Even if you restrict yourself to Anglo-American authors, the omissions in Ferguson's conservative canon are telling: No Thomas Jefferson, no Tom Paine, no Benjamin Franklin - sic semper tyrannis is an idea deeply abhorrent to their authoritarian minds. Plato being the bête noire of Popper's great The Open Society and its enemies, I would not doubt that Ferguson would add him to his list (likewise Schumpeter). Following philosopher kings is a folly, a fact the American revolutionaries well understood.
Chris Hayes' The Twilight of the Elites America After Meritocracy is a good read, although his belief in meritocracy in the US is not warranted, revealed by a casual glance at the nepotism at General Electric TV or the New York Times. I don't think that the moment of twilight has been reached yet. It will get a lot darker. Overall, Hayes is one of the good guys (and at his center-right position at the US media's marginal liberal flank).
I like the curmudgeon Sarrazin. I don't agree with his positions but I see that he argues fact-based, open and with sincerity. The book's main conclusion that Europe must discuss its future, an element that was fudged at Nice and Lisbon, lies at the core of many problems. In my view, the intermediate nation states should be discarded in favor of a lean federal EU based upon (economic) regions of 10 million inhabitants.
The EU countries consumption comparison is interesting and seems to be mostly correct (Greece at 94 and Ireland at 100 are off - the huge intra-country differences in southern and eastern Europe, esp. urban vs. rural, are neglected too). The convergence is happening. What is missing, is incentives to upgrade the political systems. As it is, the Greeks already managed to cheat again, quietly rehiring bureaucrats. "How (not) to control client state rulers" could be an excellent book in the vein of Luttwak's Coup d'État.
The UK was never a good Euro candidate, mostly because the UK's economic cycle is very different from the continental one. There was no monetary policy fit (apart from the fact that UK monetary policy mainly caters to London, leaving the rest of the country and especially the north dry).
There is nothing brave about eating nasi rawon, simply because it is so good. The only thing that comes close to it is a Taiwanese beef soup, sold in the basement of a small shopping mall in Taipei. The food is the great bonus of travelling in Asia.
Following philosopher kings is a folly, unless that philosopher king is me. I had added Plato mostly as the man who rushed Socrates’ ideas into writing. Among the thinkers missing from Niall Ferguson’s list was also that other philosopher from Rotterdam Bernard Mandeville. Mandeville even spent much of his life in Britain and published in English, but he was obviously still not British enough.
European consumption may have been merging, but I doubt if this is going to continue. I am sure the easy access to cheap credit has greatly helped creating convergence in consumption. Interestingly, today I saw this calculation of an optimal currency area from 1994 from Barry Eichengreen. I believe it is not really different from a recent one I saw on Paul Krugman’s blog, although I did not keep the link.
You are right, Europe may need more political institutions, but can we continue building them without giving the people a say? If you increase the democratic power of European citizens, the northern countries might be in for a very uncomfortable surprise. First of all, the poor members from the former Warsaw Pact may demand the same subsidies earlier given to the south. And even if we can convince them that this is not a good idea, any voting rights over budgets and taxes to citizens of the euro currency area will certainly lead to large income transfers from the north to Club Med: the Steuersünder (“tax sinners”, as Germans call the big spenders, although not when they sinned themselves) simply have more citizens than a northern block of Triple A countries and Austria. That is even when we exclude France and Belgium as “neutral”. In the last general elections the French have clearly chosen to become the leaders of the spenders. François Hollande so far has combined his increases in spending with a requirement for more “solidarity” from the north, a clear sign of Gallic arrogance that has not gone down well here. This would not necessarily be a revenge from southerners, but simply the result of a different attitude towards the state and a different time horizon.
Britain was never a good candidate for the euro, and not only because of the reasons you give. If you talk to Brits and you casually discuss travelling from Britain to Europe, they still find that perfectly normal. They enjoy their splendid isolation as much as the Swiss. Here the discussion is more like “if you can’t beat them, join them”. Dutch policy makers claim Switzerland still implements most laws coming from the European Union, but cannot influence their outcome. Dutch ministers belong to the more frequent nay-sayers against European regulation. The populist Freedom Party still proposes to follow Switzerland’s example. Effectively that would be a return to the situation before 1940.
Concerning meritocracy you may enjoy this article about the size of the financial services industry:
The working assumption of most economists is that financial development is a boon because it allocates scarce resources to those who can use them most efficiently, while reducing the volatility of consumption and investment for households, corporations and governments. Yet if the issue of size is looked at in terms of overall employment or output, there is evidence that a point can be reached where financial development and the financial system’s size turn from good to bad.
Stephen Cecchetti, chief economist of the Bank for International Settlements, with fellow economists at the BIS, has identified that point at 3.2 per cent for the employment share of finance and at 6.5 per cent for the value added share of finance. Based on 2008 data on 50 countries, the US, Canada, the UK and Ireland were all beyond the threshold for employment, while the US and Ireland were also beyond the threshold for value added.
I would expect that to apply to Switzerland, the Netherlands and Belgium also. I have to admit I have not yet read the Mr. Cecchetti's report.
>35 Back from wonderful Prague, I see you can't let go of Mr. F. His lack of basic integrity makes fruitful discussion difficult. As Keynes famously said: When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir? The philosopher map, by the way, depends on incomplete and arbitrary Wikipedia data, so is mostly GIGO too (Mr. F. would be found orbiting Mammon).
The indirect value extraction practiced by the LIBOR banksters was already well practiced by the Nazis. I am reading leftie journalist Götz Aly's Hitlers Volksstaat about how the Nazis financed their war. The English title Hitler's Beneficiaries does not represent the book's content well, although it is interesting to note that the Nazis handed out part of their murderous looting to the Volk, improving the lives of the working class (while the British increased the burdens of theirs). The Nazis temporarily solved their "guns and butter" problem by having others (mostly Jews and the conquered territories) pay for both of them. The end of the Jews of Saloniki is moving.
Re financial service industry, just like Hollywood has an "out-sized" film industry, Switzerland has an out-sized global asset management industry (Belgium and Netherlands too, mostly in international trade and project finance). The most important step in regulating banks is separating it into its distinct parts: classic retail banking (savings and loans), corporate and investment banking (services and finance for business), asset management, infrastructure finance and gambling/trading. The last part must only use their own money. The others may not use proprietary trading beyond some basic balance sheet and liquidity management. Most of the banks would become stodgy utilities again.
In Prague's City Gallery of Art in the Veletržní Palace, I revisited Mucha's Slavic Epic, which used to be exhibited in Moravian Krumlov (where I last saw it two years ago). The (temporary) installation in the City Gallery works well - the twenty panorama paintings are given enough space and proximity for rapport. It is interesting to compare Mucha's Jan Hus preaching in Bethlehem Chapel with the actual, much more light filled Bethlehem Chapel (restored by the Communists!). At the time Much painted his version, the chapel had been torn down/re-purposed (with a helping hand of the Jesuits). The Dark Ages weren't actually so dark!
The Slav Epic has a Dutch connection too - Jan Comenius dying in exile in Amsterdam. He is buried in Naarden, a wonderful fortress town which also has a Comenius museum. First, I have to visit his birthplace museum, though. It is not that far off from here in the no-man's land one hour east of Brno at the Czech border to Slovakia. Comenius was a pioneer in producing and using didactic illustrations, appropriate to his democratic motto "omnes omnia omnino excoli" - to teach everybody everything in full. His Orbis pictus, cherished by Goethe, provides both a Latin vocabulary and an explanation of the world. I ordered a German reprint edition to fully engage in his concise Latin phrases of 17th century life.
Prague is one of those places still on my list to visit. I have long thought to keep the developed countries waiting until I am old. But actually, travelling in the Third World is often easier than in Europe. You have got to do a tremendous amount of walking up and down stairs on a day in Moscow or Saint Petersburg. If I’am going to be old I’m rather going to be in Southeast Asia. Consequently, I have lately become a bit more eclectic in my choice of travel destinations. I think among the Dutch Prague is still not as popular as that other eastern steppe destination Berlin.
Naarden is indeed an interesting fortress town, although it is best seen from the air. You cannot grasp its design very well from walking around its moats or on its walls. There are quite a few other such towns left in the Netherlands, and the nicest one is probably Bourtange. I have never visited that Bourtange, however. You may find a longer list of Dutch fortress towns on this Dutch language Wikipedia page, but not all towns mentioned are in the same shape as Naarden or Bourtange.
It seems Comenius was buried in Naarden, because his patron in Amsterdam thought burial in Amsterdam was too costly (some information is here; it is unfortunately in Dutch, but that’s easy for anybody who can master Latin). This patron, a Walloon arms trader to king Gustav Adolf of Sweden, housed Comenius rather nicely here. That was a three minutes walk from one of Descartes earlier residences, so the two only met once in Leiden (and completely disagreed). Comenius had other residences in this area, all within a few minutes walk of where Rembrandt lived during the last years of his life. These two men may have bumped into each other occasionally.
Hitler’s Volksstaat sounds like an interesting book to me. I looked it up on the Amazon.de, and some complained it was quite an ideologically left-wing book. How would you rate it? Is it more ideological, or does it care about the facts?
I appreciate your idea to separate banking as a utility from investment banking, although I doubt it solves very much. The banking problems in Ireland and Spain have nothing to do with investment banking. They are the result of a housing boom, funded by mortgages. Mortgages are very much a retail product. Lately, Spanish and Italian government bonds were also mainly bought by local retail banks. And nothing would stop the Greek Ministry of Finance of doing business with Goldman Sachs. You may even say that in Europe, investment banks and universal banks are more stable than retail banks. I think what is more a problem is the scale of the remaining investment banks. Banks that are too big to fail should be broken up before they fail. It is no wonder David Cameron keeps urging the eurozone to spend and to create a banking union and share the credit risk on sovereigns: he wants his banks (and his economy) saved on the cheap:
Britain's banks do not have enough capital to withstand an escalation in the eurozone crisis, the Bank of England has warned. Barclays is the most exposed of all UK lenders to the eurozone periphery, with loan and sovereign debt exposures equivalent to 170pc of its entire equity capital. Royal Bank of Scotland also has dangerously large total exposures to the region.
It always amuses me how American and British conservatives turn into spenders when it applies to Europe and not to themselves.
Some leaders in the eurozone may be be rather envious of Finland, which could step out of the euro at almost no costs:
In conclusion, JPM think that a euro exit would be “easier and less painful” for Finland than Greece: “there is a first mover advantage for a creditor nation exiting, assuming the rest of the EMU survives.” And then we just have contagion to worry about…
The graph in the article looks rather worse for Germany and the Netherlands. It is even more painful to see that the debate about hte future of the eurozone becomes more and more one of game theory. Here ING has concluded that the current diversion of interest rates between the north (including Belgium and, strangely, France) and south are no longer a flight to safety, but a preparation for a split in the currency: “foreign currency risk is back”. That might be a bit early still, although today Spanish and Italian interest rates inversed, which is always a bad sign. This week even Sri Lanka, which recently emerged from a civil war, borrowed cheaper (at 5.875%) than Italy or Spain can. According to the usually pompous but still readable Ambrose Evans-Pritchard:
The IMF is now the de facto leader of the Eurosceptic movement
Ah, and somewhere before you tuttuted me about the one Dutch default. Actually, it was the Kingdom Holland, a French protectorate with Napoleon’s brother as the king, that had defaulted, because of punitive French taxes (nothing really changes in Europe). Urgently advised by Napoleon it had adopted a policy of tiërcering, which meant it only paid one third of its interest obligations to bond holders. This turned out to be disastrous for Dutch charities. After independence, King Willem I continued this earlier French policy. This is the default you find in This Time is Different.
I love discovering cities and their changing sceneries by walking - from one end of Venice to the other, from Wallstreet to the Guggenheim, from Fenway Park to the North End, from the Quartier Latin to Monmartre ...
The need of fortresses to keep a low profile does not make them good tourist magnets. Some cities such as Bremen have transformed their old fortifications into nice parks. Copenhagen has a nice fortress too, not far from the Little Mermaid.
The Dutch were smart to preserve Comenius' grave. Vienna foolishly composted both Mozart and Vivaldi.
Prague is well worth a visit. Still, I can't fail to notice that it is becoming more provincial, a slim international layer on a backwards-oriented, often faked (to deny the German contribution) Czech nationalism, e.g. the National Gallery divides its collection into foreign and Czech art (which pushes Egon Schiele who painted much in Bohemia into the foreign collection, separating works that were produced together and belong together). The prominently displayed Czech art, unfortunately, mostly isn't world class (although it isn't quite as dire as Zagreb's museums using the same approach).
Hitler’s Volksstaat isn't actually a leftish book, quite au contraire. Hitler relied, similar to today's US Republicans, on a coalition of the plutocrats and the frightened petit-bourgeoisie. The latter group he enticed with a massive wealth transfer he stole from the Jews and foreign countries. Bombing victims, the author's relatives among them, received replacement furniture robbed from Dutch Jews. German soldiers were encouraged to send food home. It is a testament to German logistics that they managed to send eggs and dairy products home from all corners. I don't think the current postal system would manage to transport eggs across national borders (quite apart from the farce that the transfer from Austria to Switzerland used to be 2-3 days, now I am lucky if it is 4-6 days at a higher price. The standard delivery now takes two weeks, which means that let the parcels rot somewhere for more than a week.). The petit-bourgeoisie supported Hitler because he improved their living conditions via targeted socialist transfers (today's Republicans have learned that "hate" can serve as a partial substitute. Heavily Republican states are major moochers of the Federal dime, too.).
Where the book fails, is the neglect of including Hitler's support of and from the plutocrats. Thus, it fails to give a full account. He also barely mentions Austria, which served as a hot house for many Nazi policies. The smaller wealth transfer of Jewish properties, furniture etc. is something that only starts to be discussed here in Vienna (mostly as far as major art works are concerned). The government, NGOs and private persons ended up with many formerly Jewish properties.
The heart of the book, however, is about war finance, managing to finance war expenditures while simultaneously curbing inflation (Bush financed his wars by Chinese debt and triggered a property bubble). Nazi finance policy prevented inflation by imports, letting their soldiers buy goods abroad (similar to the US consumers keeping up their lifestyle by buying cheap Chinese goods). Following the après moi, le déluge-policy, the Nazis were quite successful at keeping up their devil's ride - and so was George Bush who will surface again with his Four Percent Solution book, a collection of zombie essays written by Nobelized Chicago deadenders. I am not sure whether I will be able to stomach such intellectual rot.
British conservative journalist Jeremy Paxman's Empire: What Ruling the World Did to the British is an irreverent romp through colonial history. Paxman seems to be disappointed that the British are no longer willing to rape other continents. He fails to acknowledge the effects of demography - while the UK (and the rest of Europe) used to produce a huge surplus of people, it is starting to shrink soon. Thus, Europe does no longer have the manpower to sustain colonial ventures, even if it wanted to. Paxman chickens out and doesn't answer the question his subtitle poses.
Where China Meets India: Burma and the New Crossroads of Asia isn't fully thought through. Firstly, it neglects Thailand, which seems to grow quite nicely. The author's expectation in both India and China to develop Burma fails to take into account that both their border regions to Burma (Yunnan in the case of China, the Seven Sisters in the case of India) are poor and filled with ethnic minorities. India and China have a hard time assimilating their own citizens in those regions. Why they should succeed better in Burma, isn't apparent. The book doesn't cover Burma in the depth that I wanted.
Edward Tufte has produced a lovely tribute documentary to his teacher Inge Druckrey (vimeo) who transfered Swiss design and typography (think Helvetica) to America. I love the manifold connections between the old and the new world.
The Dutch were smart to preserve Comenius' grave. Vienna foolishly composted both Mozart and Vivaldi.
It's sort of by accident. For example: no known graves for Spinoza or Rembrandt. The fact that Comenius was buried on behalf of a wealthy patron, who probably paid for the grave to be maintaned, is likely to be the key.
Beambtenstadt the Hague is your area of expertise, but when I googled Spinoza, I found that he was buried on the grounds of the Nieuwe Kerk, as is stated on his Wikipedia page. Spinoza never converted to Dutch Reformed Christianity, but the fact that he was buried on church ground was not exceptional. “The Prince of Poets” Vondel was buried in a Reformed church, despite that Vondel had converted to the illegal Catholic church.
Rembrandt was buried in an unmarked grave in Amsterdam’s Westerkerk, just metres away from where Descartes had lived (and maybe 100 metres away from where Anne Frank had been hiding centuries later). There is a marker at about the place where his grave must have been. His grave was later cleared, because nobody paid for it to remain. Most Dutch consider a schöne leich a waste of money. I don’t think people will leave flowers on these graves, that is for the steppe people (and we do not read philosophers either, too pretentious). As I learned from The Dutch Republic : Its Rise, Greatness and Fall, 1477-1806, the mausoleums for admirals in Dutch churches should be seen as expressions of Holland’s maritime orientation vis-à-vis the inland provinces preference for land defences.
Thank you for your comments on Hitlers Volksstaat. That book is going to get on my to-read list. I think Hitler’s wealth transfer is nothing special. Booty is the right of the winner. I learned from The Age of Napoleon that le petit caporal also had to keep his victories coming to finance his armies. Napoleon was good for la gloire, but not for les finances. Unfortunately, I cannot find the quotation so quickly. What may have been modern (or democratic) about Hitler is that the Volk benefited from the loot. Anton Mussert, the leader of the Dutch national socialists, wasn’t particularly anti-Semitic, but he loved the loot he obtained from robbing Jewish families. On a side note, Mussert had published “The United States of Guyana; the Jewish national home”, a plan to create a Jewish homeland in the Guyanas in the 1938. The loss of colonies would then partly be compensated elsewhere. E.g. Holland would get part of Mozambique, next to the Afrikaner brethren. Portugal would be compensated by adding a part of Belgian Congo to Angola. That way, all of Europe would contribute. It is a lesser known variant on the Madagascar Plan.
Before the Second World War, Burma was the rice basket of Southeast Asia. It was mismanagement that turned it into a crumbling state with a superstitious, wealthy military junta. The central lowlands are easy to govern and easy to integrate by ship. There are already roads into China. The “tensions” are on the eastern and western borders. On the western borders are Islamic minorities, the students and the tribes are on the eastern borders (I visited one of the student guerilla camps). Burma does not have any industry to speak of, and I doubt that they have the engineers for industrialisation. The salaries should be among the lowest in the region, however. The tensions with jungle areas are an age-old problem, and have highly influenced the way Southeast Asians look at life and how theie economy used to be structured, I was just reminded from reading The thugs, the Curtain Thief and the Sugar Lord. I have just finished this rewarding book, and I will publish a review shortly.
From Wall Street to the Guggenheim, that is one of my favourite walks also. In Paris, I’d start in St. Germain-des-Prés, although I equally enjoy starting in Auteuil, just outside the Périphérique. It has an interesting mixture of early Modernism and 19th century architecture. Vienna is less a city for flâner.
Yes, I know. The church is still there, and so is the churchyard (in fact in walking distance from my home). But no "grave of Spinoza" I can assure you.
As for markers: I've seen a marker saying "Rembrandt was born here" on a 1970's house in Leiden. Yes, well, I'm willing to believe the location was the same. But nothing beyond that.
Looking at Comenius' patron's brick house, I am once again amazed about the large street windows that sets my privacy sense tingling.
What does one actually seek in visiting the grave/memorial of a famous person? Is the presence of the actual remains necessary? Or is the grave stone sufficient (as in the case of Spinoza)? For me, Spinoza's connection exists, while in Vienna, Beethoven's honorary grave feels fake. Compare the original grave site in this rather creepy ego-shooter-like YouTube video. In the pre-Google era, I spent some time searching for the grave of Adam Smith in a rainy churchyard in Edinburgh.
I didn't know about Bibletainment playwright Vondel: "En liever d’ eerste Vorst in eenigh laeger hof, Dan in ’t gezalight licht de tweede, of noch een minder Zoo troost ick my de kans, en vrees nu leet noch hinder." Dutch doesn't sound dramatic enough for me. It is interesting though that the Dutch apparently started much earlier than the Germans in developing vernacular literature.
Warfare is pure waste, economically speaking consumption (but without the benefits of a regular consumption). Armies are walking cities. Cities are expensive on their own, adding the logistics to make them movable adds an enormous layer of wasted resources. Given that Napoleon "inherited" the finances of an essentially broke revolution which succeeded a bankrupt monarchy I wouldn't be too harsh on him. If he had evaded the Spanish folly, he might have stabilized his reign.
Regarding the troubles of the lowlanders with the highlanders, today marks the 300th anniversary of the battle of Villmergen, a turning point in Swiss history. From then on, the urban lowlanders (and Protestants) were militarily superior to the rural highlanders (and Catholics). The advances in military technology had shifted the odds from brawn to brains which gave the West the edge to dominate the rest.
Today, it is much cheaper to subdue the highlanders with (agricultural) subventions and transfers instead of military weight (although the advances of civilization such as post offices, hospitals etc. are slowly withdrawn from the more inaccessible regions).
One important element in walking is time. I love, for instance, walking through nighttime Brussels when the dark blue exterior contrasts to the glowing yellow windows of the cafés/pubs - the cliché colors of most beer ads.
In Vienna, the walk from the Heeresgeschichtliches Museum to the Belvedere to Karlsplatz through the city to the Liechtenstein Palace is very pleasant, especially if the evening sun shine intensifies the yellowish Baroque buildings.
It is interesting though that the Dutch apparently started much earlier than the Germans in developing vernacular literature.
Yes, I guess people in the German countries of the time were too much weighed down by the thirty years war to bother with such "trivial activities". As you say "warfare is pure waste".
warfare is pure waste
wwiii will be fought with ones and zeroes.
wwiv will be fought with sticks and stones.
via Grady_Booch, marwilliamson on Twitter recalling Albert Einstein
As an Amsterdamer I rarely venture deep into the provinces, or, to be more precise, beyond the airport. I have never visited the grounds of the Hague’s Nieuwe Kerk. You can certainly make a walk through the Hague as nice as jcbrunner proposes for Vienna (mentality-wise Vienna is as much a Beambtenstadt as the Hague), but I would not include the Spui, the street where the Nieuwe Kerk is situated, in my walk. Pimped by the starchitects Rem Koolhaas and Richard Meier, it is a rather windy and unpleasant outcorner of the city. I hope for BarkingMatt that he is not living too close. Obviously, BarkingMatt requires a higher level of authenticity of his “tourist” sights. He is not like my Asian guests, who do not care about authenticity, but just want to see what is “famous”. But point taken.
The large windows of Dutch houses can be explained. First of all, Amsterdam is situated further north than Austria or Switzerland (or New York for that matter), where it gets dark earlier, particularly in winter, and where the light is not that intense. Large windows served a purpose before electric light was invented. Still, windows became smaller in the late 17th century. Windows were taxed, so it was cheaper if they were smaller. Also, interiors became richer, with more carpets and other stuff, and sunlight could harm them. In the 19th century, the churches promoted to keep curtains open. Many people still feel they have nothing to hide (and of course every street in the Netherlands can now be found on Google Streetview, unlike Vienna). Closing curtains became more a habit in the 1970’s, to ascertain that nobody could see if anybody was home. The newly found wealth brought colour televisions and video recorders, things heroin addicts found tempting to steel. But many people still like the old Bauhaus values of licht, Lucht, ruimte (light, air, space).
I think Napoleon had a more negative effect on the economy than you claimed. He definitely ruined much of what remained of Dutch international trade and crippled public finance. You are right that the situation Napoleon had inherited wasn’t much to begin with, but his wars were costly and his blockade of international trade drove up prices, increased corruption and reduced business. Even England suffered from Napoleon’s blockade. According to The Age of Napoleon, in 1811, Napoleon had run a deficit of 50 million francs, despite constant tax increases. He then stopped the arrears of pay owed to his army. That year many banks and major businesses went bankrupt. It did not stop the emperor from marching on Russia.
So in Switzerland the mountain valleys were outposts of religious conservatism. It works the same with fishing villages here. In the Netherlands, the conversion to Protestantism was really a matter of momentum. Those areas of the Netherlands that remained under Catholic rule or where Catholicism remained legal due to negotiations with invading powers, Protestantism never really gained much of a foothold. Again using The Dutch Republic : Its Rise, Greatness and Fall, it also seemed that irreligiousness was more common than I had expected.
I think flâner can be great any time of day. I have fond memories of the Boul Mich at 6 am on a rainy Saturday morning in November. Brussels is just a second rate copy of Paris. Although not without charm here and there, it is not a city that bruxelait very much. And beer commercials have moved on beyond the old clichés, as you can see here. On the other hand, this advertisement has something of that old-fashioned atmosphere.
For something completely different, and to get back to message #38, you said Aly “barely mentions Austria, which served as a hot house for many Nazi policies”. Austria has a pretty bad reputation, because of its more than average involvement in the persecution of Jews in the Second World War. Quite a few Austrian Nazis were stationed in the Netherlands, most notably Rauter and Seyß-Inquart. It has been a long time since I heard any explanation for this horrible outperformance. One was that many Austrian had come from Eastern Europe, where anti-Semitism had been more virulent. Another one was that because of the late Anschluß, careers in the regular army were not that easy to have. Are there any newer insights here?
The Vondel quotation was the first thing I read of the man since secondary school. It did not tempt me to try more. And isn’t Dutch a vernacular tongue for speakers of High German?
>43 Great catch! One reason could also have been a more cosmopolitan elite ruling Germany. Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor, conversed and wrote fluent Italian and many of his advisers were Italian or Spanish, so that like in Finland or Denmark today, the market for a local edition was too small. The lack of a leading even dominant city in Germany hindered the process as did the relative late growth of a bureaucracy that provided jobs for writers. Poor Leibniz was always hunting for money.
>44 I don't think there will ever be a world war again. Firstly, because it makes no sense militarily and economically. Trading cities and smaller states learned early that buying off your unruly neighbors is vastly cheaper than going to war. The US could simply have bought up Iraq and Afghanistan. Blowing up a mud hut with a 100.000 USD missile is such a folly.
Secondly, the actual points of contention between the political super powers is small. Many of the big issues have been resolved and the remaining issues in Africa and Asia could be solved diplomatically, as the stakes for the super powers are low. That said, I fully expect to see, within my lifetime, a tactical nuke being used in a border conflict against a border target (The Swiss army leaflet informing about the reach and consequences of tactical nukes as well as the way to proceed ends with the summons to the survivors to "fight on". Crazy MacArthur nearly did get to use a nuke; his Indian, Pakistani and soon Iranian equivalents might not be reined in by their politicians.).
>45 Aren't you a bit harsh? Inhabitants of trader/capital cities could and should be much nicer (to their own benefit). As you suspect, I like Beamtenstädte, which usually means great public services, great cultural institutions and many educated people. Vienna certainly is one but it is more than that and contains multitudes, as do all successful cities.
I found The Hague cozy, a bit too small but with great quality of life. Looking up The Hague on Wikipedia, I see that I missed visiting the Panorama Mesdag - though a look at the real Scheveningen beach would be more charming, I think.
From the Bauhaus, I actually expected more light. The Meisterhäuser in Dessau are quite dark inside - although lighter than what came before (such as the Jugendstil gem of the Stoclet Palace, Brussels, about which I attended a lecture recently).
Paris is not what Brussels reminds me of. It has too much bricks for that. No, Brussels is a wonderful odd jumble of all things European - and African. Some of the charm and chaos of the city lies in its unplanned madness (such as its fight to create proper sewers).
The Heineken commercial has two design flaws - a shoe closet in the bedroom is impractical; beer doesn't get better with age, so limiting stocks is the way to go. Furthermore, the big brands are known for curtailing variety. Displays for monotonous products do not make sense. Aargh, I am over-thinking it. I am also always amazed that Hefner is still alive - a fossil connection to the Mad Men era (I love the series and its masterful camera work).
The Austrian Nazis were a more virulent strain because they had Catholic competition in the form of the Austrofascists. Austria's best chancellor, Bruno Kreisky, though Jewish, developed a soft spot for "his" Nazis when both the socialists and the Nazis were imprisoned by the Austrofascists. To survive in this nasty environment, the Austrian Nazis increased their venomousness. A further difference was the culture clash posed by large numbers of poor, unassimmilated Eastern European Jews. Prague and Vienna were undergoing a culture shock and a process of instilling Western civilization into large numbers of uneducated Eastern European economic refugees. These could be (and can be) easily dehumanized. Austria served as a test center for much Nazi evil. The Germans were often shocked at first about the measures developed and used in Austria but were eager pupils. These Austrian specialists in evilness and murder were then sent out.
Re The Hague: Yes, it has it's charms but with a population of c. 500.000 it's indeed smallish. And alas, I live within an easy stroll from the Spui. The Nieuwe Kerk and its grounds are still charming, but for the rest it's mostly bone ugly. So I don't actually stroll there very often.
Re elite ruling Germany: Good point. Not that there were no highly educated people in the Netherlands back then, but it had become the Dutch Republic which was effectively ruled by a merchant class. And they wanted entertainment.
But you can see the same for German art and architecture. Not much of anything worthwhile going on between roughly 1610 and 1650. I do think the Thirty Years War had a huge negative influence on German cultural life too.
Re Vondel: Even though I don't necessarily shy back from early Dutch literature, I've always found him insufferable. He was mostly a playwright though. So in all honesty, even though I'm not prepared to follow up on the idea, maybe actually seeing it performed might help a bit.
Give me Constantijn Huijgens, or Gerbrand Adriaensz. Bredero, not exactly easy reading for us 21th century readers either, but at least they weren't hacks.
Re Dutch a vernacular of High German: No, you've got that wrong. Both are dialects of Frisian - read Thet Oera Linda Bok ;-)
Edited to fix HTML
P.s.: Re Panorama Mesdag: It's quaint. Don't get me wrong: as a parttime sandsculptor I like a beach. But as attractive as it may sound to a person living in a landlocked country like Austria, the actual Scheveningen beach today is, well, just another beach - full of people doing their utmost to develope skin cancer. Panorama Mesdag presents a 19th century view of that same beach. The main attraction of it in my view is that it's - as far as I know - the only Panorama painting still in situ. It used to be a hugely popular genre before the invention of film. There used to be similar buildings all over Europe, and paintings were even exchanged between them (they were all made to the exact same size).
So, again, it's quaint. I advise you to visit if you ever get the chance again. But I wouldn't travel because of it.
I love panoramas. During my July trip to Prague, I saw the Maroldovo Panorama about the last Hussite battle of Lipan 1434. The panorama building lies in the Prague Exhibition Grounds in the northern bend of the Moldau/Vltava, which few foreigners are even aware of. You pay 25 Czech crowns (1 EUR) to the proverbial Eastern European grandma to enter the panorama and appreciate the immersion in solitude.
Quite the contrast to the visitor frenzy panoramas were in the 19th century, an age where tourism was still the domain of the rich and the desperate. The Panorama by Bernard Comment and Sehsucht : das Panorama als Massenunterhaltung des 19. Jahrhunderts by Marie-Louise von Plessen are good introductions to this thrill of the past. The Waterloo Panorama (YT) is still the highlight of a visit to the battlefield.
Switzerland is also rich in panoramas. When the Battle of Murten panorama will have its own pavillon, there will be four different panoramas for visitors. The Panorama of the Crucifixion of Christ in Einsiedeln, the view of Thun (YT) and my favorite, the French Bourbaki army crossing the Swiss border into safety in Lucerne.
In Austria, Innsbruck has relocated and renovated its 1809 Bergisel Tirol Panorama which I have yet to see in its new Gestalt. I don't like its association with the WWI revisionist Kaiserjägermuseum. Perhaps a visit will revise my opinion.
Meanwhile, as I said before, Barack Obama is a lucky man. I wish, for the good of America and the world, he had taken the hard road and cleaned out the Republican Augean stables of crime and corruption (sending some on a free visit to the Hague). Instead, he prolonged their policies and is now only facing the American Borat. Mencken's caveat, though, still holds.
So Jared Diamond weighs in, because Mitt lacks basic reading comprehension skills. While Mitt's book No apology switched from pro-Romneycare to anti-Romneycare in the transition from hardcover to paperback, the feedback loop about the Diamond error also contained therein was broken (unfortunately, Obama is also very good at ignoring inconvenient economic and constitutional issues).
Mitt's atrocious Palestine-Israel argument basically channels Acemoglu/Robinson's Why Nations fail. These two, however, aren't antisemites, their examples of inferior cultures/institutions have darker skin colors such as South Africa's bantustans. Good Republican troopers, they end their post: "It seems to us that Mr. Erekat, not Mitt Romney, has the right idea." We have to leave it at that.
Talking about Harvard failure, Henry Mintzberg's Managers not MBAs should be essential reading. A lot of the current difficulties is just bad management, mostly by people trained and educated at Harvard.
Meanwhile, Edward N. Luttwak has discovered a new "evil empire" and written a book about China to be published this winter. I must admit I have still to finish his last one about the Byzantine Empire. Talking about "Great-State Autism", his tone deafness in this book promo video is astounding. As an example, switch "China" to "USA" in his message. Then some of it actually starts making sense. It is rather stark accusing the Chinese of excessive military spending and foreign intervention. "Chinese talents ... do not include strategy." is also a highly questionable statement. Strategy is probably the most overrated term of the 20th century.
A rather different China emerges from Factory Girls, a good read, but not as good as her husband's work.
War is the continuation of politics by other means. All politics is local. Consequently, I would not rule out a world war, even if it could never make sense economically. However, I would say wars by proxy like the ones in Vietnam, Afghanistan and the various conflicts in Africa are more likely. You are afraid of a tactical nuke, I’d expect a terrorist organisation may create a simple drone some time soon. But then again, few terrorist organisations have so far been able to use chemical weapons or low-level radioactive material. So hopefully, I am wrong.
The rise of a new economic power usually goes hand in hand with a reorganisation of political power. In that sense, China has been doing what Edward N. Luttwak wants. Beyond some sable rattling in the South China Sea, the nouveau riche Middle Kingdom has been remarkably peaceful. For the rest Luttwak makes little sense. China “never interacted” with cultures that it could recognise as its equals? In the 20th century it was first occupied by the Manchu and by a string of European powers. Then a large part of the country was run over by the Japanese. Later it fought in Korea and lost a smaller scale border ware from the Vietnamese. It embraced a foreign ideology (communism) and now employs a lot of foreign consultants, while half of its elite studies in Britain and the United States. Luttwak is only right that in many cases the powers that occupied China sinefied, rather than the other way around. If the Chinese leadership does or does not have a long-term strategy I would not know, because that leadership is rather secretive. But from newspaper reports I have read, I understand that in their elite school in Beijing they do a lot of long term planning, something that cannot be said of Western powers, including the USA. Still, there is some support for Luttwak from Kishore Mahbubani:
The legacies of Deng and his predecessor, Mao Zedong, are very different. But the People's Republic's two most important leaders did agree in one area: both bent over backwards to make territorial concessions to resolve border disputes. This explains why China was so generous to Russia, for example, in its border settlements. Mao and Deng could do this because both provided China with strong leadership. The challenge for the world now is that China has become politically pluralistic: no leader is strong enough to make wise unilateral concessions.
I am unfamiliar with the latest gossip about Leslie T. Chang’s love life or marital status, but in what sense are her husband’s works better? Having visited the staff quarters and the Factory Girls of such a factory in Batam in Indonesia, I recognise a lot of what Ms. Chang writes about. I just found her writing just a bit too high octane, too much pushing her argument. I apologise for saying her style is a bit too American for my taste.
I am a bit surprised indeed of your fondness of Beambtenstädte. You regularly express that you favour a more egalitarian society, and Beambtenstädte are hierarchical. Vienna is an even better example than The Hague in this respect. The adoration for everything noble and kaiserlich-königlich in the city on the blue Danube is on the brink of being funny. Trading cities are more fluid in their social differences, I think. I would not dare to concur that the level of education in places like Boston and New York is really lower than in Washington. Neither does this apply to Amsterdam vs. The Hague. But Beambtenstädte are usually a bit cleaner, that is true. And they may have comfortable housing for a better price than in a successful trading city. This may apply more to The Hague than to Washington: there is less money to be made in Dutch politics than in American politics. Personally, I would not mind living near the The Hague’s Sweelinckplein in Duinoord, an area full of older buildings in comfortable neo-styles of the late 19th century. That said, BarkingMatt is fully right that Scheveningen, the city’s beach, is about as horrible as anywhere east of Blackpool. Scheveningen’s majestically tacky Kurhaus once stood on the beach alone. Now it is beleaguered by a set of grungy looking supermarkets, restaurants, pubs and a casino. Nowadays, sensitive souls may prefer the beach view from the Panorama Mesdag.
But I agree you were a bit over-thinking about the Heineken commercial. As far as I have seen walk-in closets in the unsurpassable MTV Cribs, they are usually near bedrooms. And some beer does get better with age. Not the standard beer in Germany, Austria or Holland (including Heineken), but India Pale Ales do. Once you get beyond the silly Reinheitsgebot, there are a lot of things you can do with beer. This and chocolate are the two areas where Belgium reigns supreme.
I have never visited Dessau and its Bauhaus designed buildings, but I did visit the Weißenhofsiedlung in Stuttgart. Mart Stam’s building certainly has quite large windows. You also find them on this picture of the Rietveld Schröder House. I have visited Sonneveld House by Van der Vlugt, which is definitely a very light and airy place to live (just look at the picture of the sitting room). Windows were much bigger than the previous generation of housing blocks if you consider this and this example from Amsterdam. Tuberculosis was still a city disease, and the positive effect of fresh air was only recently understood. Hence Sanatoria and “open air schools” were built with large windows that could all be opened. The Open Air School in the picture was built inside a block of houses, because it was deemed to ugly at the time. It was recently voted as a favourite monument for restauration. Generally, one of the main reasons for the Modernist love for strip buildings was that it allowed a good orientation towards the sun.
Mitt Romney, how does he compare to Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften? I once intended to read it, but it reminds me too much of some idiot manager to stomach the books many pages.
In >9, I already addressed Fareed Zakaria's stale opinions which turn out to be "second hand" too. Naturally, as a Harvard man, his apology is no such thing. He will be back in no time, as his fellow Harvard School of Government alumna and plagiarist Doris Kearns Goodwin or Greg "Culture of Fraud" Mankiw can testify. Accountability is for little people.
Mitt Romney is the opposite of "a man without qualities". Actually, you just need one word to describe his essence: Evil. George Bush did many stupid and mean things, but deep down, he was a frail human being. Romney lacks this basic empathy and human touch. He is a sadist who likes to hurt people (assaulting the gay kid, firing sick people, bullying female Bostonian Mormons, ...) and animals (Seamus on the roof, sick horses, ...). He is a coward (a pro-Vietnam demonstrator with many deferments, Bain safety net of 100% risk-free investments and retroactive assignments, ...). He is compulsively dishonest. He disrespects the rule of law - hiring illegal janitors is only bad because it makes him look bad not because it happens to be against the law. As long as it stays secret, Mitt will not be constrained by decency or laws. Many of his investments privatize earnings and socialized losses (see shady tax practices at Marriott overseen by Romney or this sad Italian affair where Romney and co. bought the privatized Italian Yellow Pages and flipped it back to Telecom Italia two years later at an amigo price, the profits disappearing in Luxembourg. Ripping off the public, paying no taxes makes him the American Berlusconi.
The more the American public learns about Romney, the more they dislike him. Unfortunately, the US media is playing all out defense for him. Electing such a terrible human being as president would be utter folly. Bush and Berlusconi, to stop at the letter B, unfortunately show that such cases are not impossible. As Barack Obama seems eager to do a "grand bargain" with the Republicans, the US path towards Argentina continues. A steering wheel that only allows turns towards the right or hard-right.
Robert Musil was a keen observer of Kakanien and a stellar writer - but: too many words, too many words. Many Austrian politicians with sleeping problems rely on Musil to transfer them to the land of Morpheus. Like Proust and Virginia Woolf, his works are deficient in plot. Perhaps I should try once again.
Leslie T. Chang is married to Peter Hessler, the former New Yorker China correspondent who is both a gifted writer and a supremely emphatic person. Hessler gives his subjects his full attention and is willing to look foolish. Chang constantly emphasizes the social distance (nationality, language, education, income, ...) separating her from her subject, her interview partners even accuse her of acting like a spy (any reporter kind of is one). It is probably no accident that he works for the New Yorker and she for The Wall Street Journal.
The underlying reporting is interesting though. Her book is about factory girls is actually mostly about lower rung white collar workers, as it takes curiosity and bravery to approach a reporter. As these factories are 70% staffed by women, I wonder what the men do? The demographic imbalance has led to a lot of female empowerment (and the liberty to divorce, reaching US levels!). See this interesting talk by Yale sociology professor Deborah S. Davis.
Re Beamtenstädte, I think it is useful to distinguish them from court cities which explains why Washington, DC, with its courtiers on K Street is not as livable as it could be. Courts do not care about citizens and peasants, as shown magnificently in Ridicule directed by Patrick Leconte who is also responsible for the charmingly sad Le mari de la coiffeuse.
While you are right, that Beamte are inherently hierarchical, they nevertheless show esprit de corps, a certain basic care about each other and each other's rights and duties. I love cities that use an economies of scale advantage to create public goods (such as Benjamin Franklin's public library or New York's Central Park) where you don't have to pay entry fees or toll charges. I find it atrocious that entry to New York's MoMA costs 25 USD per adult. The social segregation this causes is visible any discerning visitor (at least it offers free hours for the poor on Friday afternoons). The Smithsonian or many British museums with free/donation admission are what civil cultural institutions should be about.
Belgium's culture of dirt, the anti-Reinheitsgebot, is one of a kind. Without the intermediary training in Austrian Schlampigheit I would never have survived living half a year in Belgium. Why Swissair bought the Belgian dodo Sabena that, in time, sank Swissair too, has always been a puzzle to me. Dutch investments in Belgian banks and insurance companies have also not been fortunate too if I remember correctly. Belgian chocolate and beer is fine, though (I have yet to manage to drink one of the heavy Trappist beers without being hit by a head ache). For supreme misery, combine it with a visit to Ostend.
Apologies for my slow response. I do not have internet access from home for a few weeks.
I am not going to say much about the American elections, given the mess in my own country that has to vote next week after a messy campaign. Only the Economist found something positive to say. The accusations of lying are a new element in a system with ever smaller parties in a year where we already saw the first attempt to introduce a US-style filibuster. If we import practices from America, let us start with Silicon Valley. The last development seems that the two populist parties are slowly losing voters. That is the only hopeful sign so far.
Regarding the Republican tax holidays and trickle down effects, someone made me aware of this blog entry. The Bush tax holidays do not necessarily lead to much higher levels of wealth compared to an averagely equally developed economy, only to a more uneven distribution of income. Of course this is not completely fair: Holland is a much smaller place and relatively wealthy in Europe. In an equivalent American wealth bucket Holland is probably a bit poorer. It would have been interesting to compare Holland to Massachusetts.
Chinese men perform jobs that require physical strength and Ausdauer, like steel mills, construction work and truck driving. With China's inefficient ways of investing there are plenty such jobs. (and the heavy involvement of poor men with limited education is even a reason for the overinvestment, I'd say). These are sectors where increasing productivity is not always easy. Women are more popular for factory work, because they are thought to be more docile.
The civil servant has esprit de corps? A lot of the Dutch provincial capitals have good cultural services for their size. It seems these civil servants look after themselves rather well. But in a society based upon compromises I am not so convinced about their intrinsic great value. I prefer cities where the money is earned to those where the money is distributed. Places where money is spent can be pleasant too (think Cape Town or Rio de Janeiro). But I felt immediately at home in places like Sydney and Hong Kong. "Universal cities" like Paris, Buenos Aires and Tokyo that combine government, business and culture are nice too. London's free entry to museums is great for a tourist, but they have made exhibitions even more expensive.
Belgian banks have been quite a disaster, although ING's purchase of Banque Bruxelles Lambert was fine, although it brings in the Trojan horse of the French management style. On the other hand, Fortis' and Dexia's management should not have directed anything but a regional savings bank. I'd better not say much about dirty Belgium. It seems Amsterdam tries to realise some cost cuts on street sweeping, and the young generation, ahum, seems to find it a pleasure to leave their rubbish in the grass of Amsterdam's venerable Vondelpark (financed by the Amsterdam elite for the common good, but that was in a time of lower taxes). Beach towns are often a bit seedy. Going to the beach is probably the cheapest way to spend a holiday. It did not help that the Germans destroyed most beach towns and fishing villages when they developed the Atlantikwall. Knokke is probably more your beer. This is where the Walloon elite goes to relax if they are not visiting their private banker in Geneva. Trappist beer does not have to be heavy. All "Trappist" means is that it is brewed by Trappist monks. Some of that work is even outsourced to large brewers. The much hyped Westvleteren is indeed excellent, but unfortunately more expensive than champagne when purchased overseas.
Late too, must be the summer. Your lack of internet may have shielded you from witnessing Niall Ferguson completing his transformation into Gollum (which is actually an insult to Smeagol). Followed by another cheating scandal, Harvard men should apply for Cretan citizenship.
The US presidential election, which Obama has to win for civilization, will prove quite futile, as it looks like the crazy Republicans will hold on to the house of representatives, thus preventing all sensible policies. Clinton and Obama are already signaling that they are willing to bargain away some of the few remaining social protection achievements. Instead, they should campaign on the slogan that they will enact all measures necessary so that Mitt Romney pays the same tax rate as a nurse or a firefighter.
I don't know whether you have seen the chart comparing the Dutch and US income distribution. The dirty secret of the US income distribution is that the upper 40 percent, compared to the Netherlands, are better off because they have a pool of cheap labor for many menial services that are not available for the non-ultra rich in Europe. A Wallmart greeter, shoe-shiners, valet parking attendants etc. are simply out of questions given Europe's social contributions.
Re museums, I like the split between, more or less, free permanent exhibitions with event-priced special exhibitions as it aligns the marginal economic incentives to that of the museum's visitor cost. A permanent exhibition is essentially a fixed cost. Most museums suffer from too few visitors to their (often too expensive) permanent collection and have become too reliant on hyped special exhibitions to attract visitors. Many, fortunately, have discovered that opening one or two days in the evening can attract new visitors (I truly hate museums that close at 17:00 with some closing visitor admission at 16:00!).
Zurich National Museum, which I will visit in October, has an interesting exhibition Capital - Merchants in Venice and Amsterdam with a wonderful illustration of the Dutch ambassador all in black meeting the red-clad Doge of Venice. The blurb unfortunately abuses some terms. You don't "invest" in luxury; that is consumption. Are there little Nialls, historians pretending to be economists, lurking? It might have been a bit pretentious (and not very welcome in its rival city) but I would have added Basel for a Swiss connection and nexus between Venice and Amsterdam.
Re the Dutch election, NZZ noted with some concern that it is the fifth election in ten years, a rather southern rhythm. To me, it looks similar to Switzerland where the fixed traditional party affiliations are becoming liquid. The traditional party lines/pillars no longer capture the essentials of modern life (Catholic vs Protestant? rural vs urban? liberal vs conservative?) but new parties have difficulties to develop a non-minority theme (Greens, Pirates, ... there was even a pro-car party in Switzerland).
I took Robert Hughes' death as an occasion to plunge into his stellar The Fatal Shore. It is crazy how the Brits managed to brush their penal colony and gulags under the carpet. It is also amazing that they repeated the folly of not pre-selecting the first settlers in terms of their skills and jobs, which cost "them" dearly in America and Australia but obviously not the decision makers in London. While I still haven't finished the book, I already ordered his book about pre-1925 Barcelona (which I have to re-order , as the Amazon marketplace seller canceled when it noticed that it was a heavy book more expensive to ship than the sum Amazon charges).
Finally re architecture, I am slowly working my way through Christopher Alexander's The process of creating life (2/4) about what makes a building a good structure. Unfortunately, he uses a hundred pages to bring just a few points across: A good structure is self-referential/fractal/grown. A good structure relates to its environment. A good structure contains imperfection (The last point is shown by IKEA adding blemishes to its catalogue pictures which now are 25 percent digitally produced.). The "Zitkamer" (wonderful word!) of the Sonneveld House and many other Bauhaus buildings look too sterile to be comfortable. In Vienna, the Wienmuseum is an exhibition about the local Bauhaus clone, the Werkbundsiedlung 1932.
Summer? I shall have to fly a few hours to experience that phenomenon this year. In northwestern Europe we have had a particularly wet summer with more tropical downpours than I can recall. Still, Niall Ferguson has disappeared from my radar screen.
As did the US elections, because of our own (Dutch) elections. Being a good burgher, I still invest more (time) in choosing who to vote than the politicians seem to invest in good ideas. Het feest der democratie has become a burgerplicht and even a tad annoying. Despite of a choice of 20 parties it seems to be getting more difficult to find a party worth my 200 yard stroll to the polling station , even with modern tooling to make the choice easier:
Befuddled voters, who have 20 or so parties to choose from in the general election on September 12th, can save hours of poring over manifestos by submitting to the StemWijzer. This government-backed website presents 30 pithy statements (“All (drug-selling) ‘coffee-shops’ in the Netherlands should be closed down”; “European supervision of banks should be implemented”), and matches voters to the party that best fits their views.
Five elections in 10 years proofs that practice does not always make perfect.
It is rare for a Dutch government to last the full four years. Until the start of this century, a party would "break" to have a free choice of new partners after the elections. The current instability is a return to pre-war practices. A big difference to the pre-war period is the post-war welfare state. Still, everybody but the two populist parties want to reduce the deficit more than is optimal according to the generally accepted (Keynesian) models of the Central Plan Bureau that the Economist raves about. Holland remains a nation of beancounters and shopkeepers, although I have heard a social democrat (of course) alderman in Amsterdam talk about "investing" in higher salaries for tram drivers.
A big change has been the demise of the Christian Democrats, that were once in the centre of power and ruled longer than the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. They were a large and stable party, although they maintained that through a merger in the 1970's. "Deconfessionalisation", a long-term demographic trend, has done them much harm. Another trend is fragmentation of parties. With 150 seats you just need the backing of 0.6% of the voters to get a seat. We have for example a party with some rather exotic ideas (more God in politics, which means a strict anti-abortion policy, introduction of the death penalty, no active voting rights for women) that has had the backing of a stable 1.5-2% of the electorate for almost a century. Appenzeller could feel right at home among "folkloristisch rechts" in the Netherlands. The conservatives here are sufficiently pro-cars, but we do have an animal welfare party. Just like in Switzerland the traditional lines/pillars have become more fluid and marketing becomes more important. It becomes more difficult to create a stable brand in the centre. The debating quality of the social democrat party leader has greatly influenced this election outcome. The beauty of the pillar society (which also had its ugly sides) was that it created stability and required a sense of solidarity between income and educational classes within a pillar. You now see economic success (which is highly correlated with education) becoming more important in people's political choices. The west of the country chooses conservative, the periphery votes populist. How stable are Swiss governments? The Scandinavians do very well with minority governments.
A good structure is grown, that seems to be a pretty bourgeois idea of architecture. The lower incomes cannot afford nice old houses, particularly not in a densely populated country like Holland that went through a a greater baby boom than most neighbouring countries. Social housing is subsidised and produced pre-fab everywhere, even in the so-called freest economies Hong Kong and Singapore.
But you are right, a certain emptiness (air, space) characterises Bauhaus and modernism. The modernists Le Corbusier, Gerrit Rietveld, Mart Stam and expectedly the city planner Cornelis van Eesteren all had a Calvinistic background. And what is more typical for a Calvinist church than an empty white washed interior? It may also be something Dutch, a defining element for a country that lacks the grand imperial history and drama of Vienna (or the bella figura of Venice). People living in Viena may think that Amsterdam's synagogues look just as sterile as the churches or modernist buildings. Lacking any serious height differences and largely consisting of reclaimed lakes, Holland's landscape is completely organised and ordered, although it has become rather messy and ugly in the last two decades with a sprawl of warehouses and cheap office blocks outside every small town. That said, if you look at early 20th-century interiors they seem pretty stuffy. Houses have become emptier and bigger. Amsterdam has fewer citizens than a five decades ago, but its land use has doubled.
So how was Draghi's bazooka to save the euro received in Austria? Among economists here the fact that the Dutch central bank had not voted in synch with the Germans was seen as a paradigma change that the central bank has not yet explained to the public. If I may believe the German papers the ECB is just one or two steps away from the policies of the Banca d'Italia and all of us from a Latin currency (note the proposal to introduce a parallel currency within the euro area). Through the movements of the ECB we now risk more debt than the Italians risk changing the status quo. It remains difficult to get a weak executive to move, where it has to. Also interesting but only in Dutch: for the state of a country with a large exposure to financial markets throughj savings, low borrowing costs are detrimental for government income.
Houses have become emptier and bigger.
Mine hasn't. But, mind you, that's mostly because of compulsive book buying ;-)
Re Dutch elections: The fact that we're now faced with two parties each having about 40 seats* (preliminary results) - that are thus more or less convicted to form a coalition - might stabilize things a bit, for a while. The only real upturn I see though is that loose canon Wilders lost big-time.
* 41 for the "Liberals" (they're not really very liberal) and 39 for the "Social Democrats" (they're really neither very social nor very democratic) .
"Social Democrats" (they're really neither very social nor very democratic)
I tend to disagree with you. The social democrats claim to have a monopoly on what is "social" and "fair". And so has the Socialist Party, that can tell you on the euro exactly what house is good enough for you ("also in the west of the country"). If you buy a more expensive house, they will tax just as long until you fit their standards exactly.
I do agree however that the liberals are not particularly liberal.
Book buying is soooo last century. If you crave culture, go to see a musical!
Yeah. I know: I'm one of the old school elitists. I have actually learned to read and to count beyond my own toes. Very old fashioned.
A musical? Isn't that so 80's? I love Avenue Q and intend to see The Book of Mormon, but otherwise the new century has been pretty bleak for musicals. Vienna, which used to be, besides Hamburg, the main city of musicals in Central Europe is currently showing re-runs as does Hollywood with the upcoming version of my favorite musical Les Mis which casts Amanda Seyfried as the genetically improbable daughter of Anne Hathaway.
The amount of clutter in a house has, in my opinion, always been more a question of personality than era. The increase of possessions more than matched that of space available. I think one has to distinguish between beautiful (Japanese, Quaker/Protestant, ...) reductive emptiness and bleak Hopperian wastelands. The difference lies in their ability to connect and add, which is difficult for Bauhaus and its successors (especially true for Calatrava buildings).
The trouble with Christopher Alexander's correct analysis is that he wants to return to a hand-made, traditional era. At times, he seems to relish how people live in stylish poverty. As you justly point out, pre-fab modules are the future. Customization and adaptation at various levels is the key element (as pointed out in one of my favorite books How buildings learn). A lot of the sins of real estate development lies in its ballistic, Sim City one shot master planning approach where one creator designs how people should live together instead of letting structures evolve in time. If one looks at those model cities/developments such as Vienna's Werkbundsiedlung, they are distinct, not integrated into their surroundings. Many times, as with much social housing projects, tearing them down is the only solution. Alexander justly contrasts this with the recycling going on in, say, Italian city centers or Vienna's Altbau which can be modernized. But I still have 400 pages of Alexander's second volume to digest ...
I dislike grand coalitions as they remove Schumpeter's essential of democracy: competition and choice. Grand coalitions collude against voters, implicitly such as in the United States or explicitly such as in Austria where currently like two spent boxers the two ruling partners cling to each other because the alternative for each would be worse. In competition analysis of European telecom markets, it has been shown that only four or more credible contenders create competitive markets and consumer choice. Grand coalitions are a way to immunize bad policy from the voters' wrath (see Greece) - which results ineffective ugly populism.
Switzerland's political system is sui generis, because its federal level has few competencies and a weak executive whose role is mostly to supervise the bureaucracy. The long running joke that Swiss Federal Councillors need no security detail because any potential assassin would know that the replacement would be no different is not that far off. A multi-party parliament checked by quarterly popular votes (referenda) on topics creates many choke points and results in stasis/stability. The absence of a strong executive and an indecisive parliament regularly bites Switzerland when it is bullied by Germany, France or the United States.
Re Euro. Austria's sitting somewhere in the backseat, hoping for the journey not to end in a crash. The consent of the governed isn't of high priority for the decision makers. Government of, by and for the people is more for the big screen.
I already ordered his book about pre-1925 Barcelona
I wonder why the shipping charges would be high for that book... In case you aren't aware of it, there are two Robert Hughes books on Barcelona, one of which is available as a Vintage (I think) paperback. That's the longer and older one. The other one, which I don't have, is a shorter illustrated title, more tourist-y. I only looked through it in a bookstore and decided I was content with the longer text.
I am naturally looking for the door stopper. The recent commotions regarding the independence of Catalunya increases the relevance of the book. It happens quite frequently that smaller sellers cancel an order. As it costs me 3,40 euros postage to send the book in the reverse direction (Germans are fortunate with their Kilotarif), the 3 euros Amazon charges will only be viable if the seller has a commercial shipping rate. Given the price of the used book itself of around 3 to 4 euros, there is no profit left in completing the transaction (or they might just have misread Austria for Australia ...).
For a long time, the relationship between Bavaria and Austria has been similarly charged. The relationship was the focus of the 2012 Landesausstellung in charming Burghausen, featuring an excellent exhibition curated by the Haus der Bayrischen Geschichte in Augsburg. Its website informs me that it will be completely redesigned for 2018 in Regensburg. If this is done by the crew that curated the Burghausen exhibition, it will be a wonderful place to visit.
Austria was re-developed/colonized by Bavarians (to whom it appeared as the country in the East - Öster-reich). The West to East transfer is still visible today in language dialect maps. When the more liberal inheritance laws split Bavaria into multiple parts, while the more conservative ones in Austria kept it together in one part, relative power shifted towards Austria. A good part of the border regions of Bavaria were also annexed into Austria. An interesting medieval What-if Bavaria and Austria had remained under united control. Vienna certainly would never have attained its importance.
Re musicals: Somehow musicals got hugely popular in the Netherlands fairly recently. They even manage to show the casting procedure as a sort of entertainment on national television. People can vote on who is going to be the next "Zorro" or "Mary Poppins". I admire the audacity, and they're getting away with it.
Also somehow musicals managed to get onto the political agenda here in the Netherlands. Apparently they're a fine example of how "culture" can pay for itself.
Musicals have always been commercial endeavors. High culture could certainly learn a lot from musical productions with regards to standardization, touring and reuse, which would curtail the almost comical need of directors to re-imagine scenery and costumes of classic opera (which either results in a bare-bones scene or, never seen before and daring, lets locate the story in Nazi Germany). Musical knows how to cut corners (playing with a reduced or even taped orchestra, using tech-assisted weaker singers, reusing/sharing sets). Given a suitable venue with a regular stream of audience, it can be a long-running commercial success. As already lamented above, the deplorable risk adversity of producers presents us with all too many warmed up musical remakes or movie transfers (Spiderman). In the worst case such as Mamma Mia, a fake musical is even turned into a dreadful movie.
Taking it one step further and turning it into cheap TV fodder in the Glee and audition/reality TV show mold is only consequential. TV saves on scenario and actors' fees, licenses of old musical hits will be relatively cheap and the stage set is already provided by the location. Never could eyeballs be attracted more cheaply. It also fulfills our desire for competence porn, of seeing and learning how a product is made (see also the popularity of cooking shows). Partly, this returns the musical to its origin in the cabaret or Heurigen with a singing entertainer who interacted closely with the audience. The trouble is that there is little room for innovation, for experimentation with new material.
The BBC currently is presenting a three part docu Masters of Money on Keynes, Hayek and Marx. The first episode about Keynes featured prominent interviewees such as Stiglitz and Rogoff but failed to present the viewer with conclusions. Too much was left in a false "he said, she said and we have to leave it at that". Content was sacrificed for unnecessary on-location shots around the globe. The average viewer will probably not have learned what Keynesianism actually means (not quite sure either if the presenter did either). Some claims were highly questionable. Keynes was not middle class in the general sense of the word. With his father a lecturer at the University of Cambridge and he himself attending Eton and King's College, he was part of the upper-most crust of the upper-middle-class, certainly part of the British elite.
I am looking forward to the Hayek episode and am already wondering which Viennese location shots they will use. The third episode with Marx is a cop-out. They should have taken a step forward not backward.
Hughes' Barcelona is now on its way, although Abebooks shipping time of up to 45 business days from the UK to Austria will hopefully not be fully used.
The remaining Masters of Money episodes about Hayek and Marx were disappointing. A huge travel budget, an illustrious set of interviewees and the host never tries to arrive at real conclusions (besides her neoliberal bias). When she lets the crank Ron Paul and economist Paul Krugman speak, then their two opinions are not equally valid. Stiglitz and Krugman's contributions were also often of the "It is cold in winter" type, while their opponents were allowed to elaborate their own ideas. I think the torified BBC just found itself a replacement for the disgraced Ferguson. Public education about economics will not be improved by such stuff.
Hughes' Barcelona is a wonderful read, filled with poems, historical vignettes and tidbits, such as that Barcelona's fishermen had a mandatory cat on board, if the cat was stolen, even better:
Farina del moliner
gat del mariner
i gallina di soldat,
no preguntis que han costat.
(A miller's flour, a sailor's cat. a soldier's chicken, don't ask what they cost.)
Another interesting fact is that the Catalan textile industry, quite inefficient, relied on the captive South American market for survival. Similar to how many overseas European territories profit from an unequal playing field, which floods European markets with sub-par bananas. Métronome, the history of Paris, was a chore to finish. Unlike the book and TV documentary's ads, the book is true to its actual title - marching through the centuries at fixed speed. It is simply crazy to allocate the same space to, say, the 4th and the 19th century in the history of Paris. Writing a good history of Paris is a nearly impossible task, because its history is often identical with the history of France (the red and blue colors of Paris mixed with the royal white are the origin of the modern French flag). Alistair Horne's Seven Ages of Paris is weak too, despite his deep knowledge of France and his writing skills.
Yesterday was Vienna's annual Museum Open Night (Lange Nacht der Museen). The Vienna Museum offered current and old catalogs at half price, so that I carried an extra 10 kg of books along. The event offers a good occasion to have a look at exhibitions not worth the full entrance price. The Belvedere promoted the works of a justly forgotten painter named Carl Schuch who still painted Biedermeier landscapes and still lifes at the end of the 19th century. The Kunstforum presented a justly forgotten group of Hungarian fauvists The Eight who turned out inferior versions of Cezanne, Beckmann and Kokoschka for the Hungarian market.
On the plus side, the Klimtvilla is a nice reconstruction of Klimt's semi-rural atelier. I only wish they had named it differently as its transformation into a villa happened later. Hopefully, they will restore its garden to the wilderness Klimt enjoyed. A nice place, far from the usual tourist haunts.
Klimt's enigmatic Beethoven Frieze in the cellar of the Secession benefits from the unfortunately only temporary viewing platform. Not having to crane one's neck is a good trade-off for the lost space. Being close to the artwork, however, exposes its generally bad state of conservation. The Upper Belvedere's Klmit exhibition is very beautifully presented. The new management improved the artistic sensibilities of according masterpieces suitable space and environments.
This year's deaths of Paul Fussell, Robert Hughes, John Keegan, Maurice Keen and Eric Hobsbawn increased my reading backlog. From Hobsbawn alone, I have two books in the pipeline. His most recent one, a collection of his writings on Marx(ism) and his classic book on bandits. Paul Fussell's The Great War and modern memory is a tour de force, a supreme flow of meaningful words based upon experience and research.
Sorry for my late response. I have been ex patria for a few weeks, but let me try to continue to politely disagree with you now that I have returned from a time zone six hours to the east. Unfortunately I cannot comment on Masters of Money, except that instead of Marx, I would have chosen Ricardo.
Musicals seem to have become big business in this part of Europe, attracting a large audience that wants an evening out, but cannot appreciate opera, because they were raised exclusively listening to pop music. Musicals are probably a bit cheaper too. The way you describe the production values of musicals is about how operas were programmed in Vienna until at least the late 1980's. I used to watch an opera about every week during my stint in Vienna. Standing places were not even two euro, if I recall it correctly. I must have looked scruffy in my old jeans in Vienna's grand bonbonnière, where ladies wore evening dresses and some Japanese ladies even came in kimono. But the choreographies all looked as if they had not changed since the 1950's. It had become difficult to relate to them when you were young. Even an opera needs an update of its mise-en-scène.
The amount of clutter in a house has always been more a question of personality than era. But the amount of furniture a bourgeois house nowadays has is less than in the age of cigars and antimacassars. We now have less chairs (and book shelves) but larger "love seats" and TV's grow larger every year.
You may not like the "one shot master planning approach" of city planners, but that was what was needed after the Second World War with a quickly rising population and unprecedented wealth creation and distribution. The Dutch CIAM city planners were very conscious of the importance of creating viable social structures in their new garden cities, even to the point of becoming maddeningly paternalistic about it: if you wanted to get a garage for your car in Amsterdam, they always made you walk a block, so you could interact with your neighbours. The planned community centres were often the first costs to be cut and would probably not fit into our modern age anyway.
The Dutch have a long tradition of city planning. Amsterdam's beloved ring of canals of the early 17th century, according to Geert Mak's De Goede Stad in its days the largest city plan since the Roman Empire, is a well-known example. Many of these plans worked well, also when they were created by commercial development societies (e.g. in Amsterdam and the Hague, but also in Jakarta, Bandung and Malang). However there is a clear wealth effect. Those that were developed for higher incomes have remained universally popular. The trouble seems to be with the investment per flat. There may also be something with the amount of space: the post-war suburbs are much more spacious than earlier areas. Richard Florida's "creative class" prefers the more densily populated older parts of the city to the point that flats there are materially more expensive. They like the local Starbucks imitations with free WIFI as areas for networking.
As for the euro, the quality of the discussion here is pretty low also. It does not help that Holland, like Austria, is not invited to the table until guarantees need to be given or, later, haircuts need to be accepted. Even if the per capita bill is going to be higher But I do not see the Germans looking for allies either. Although this this proposal by the crazy gollem Van Rompuy to have us fund French unemployment benefit should enrage all.
Your remark about Barcelona's dependency on selling textiles in South America surprises me only partially. The Land of Hope and Glory pioneered this with British India, and the Dutch area Twenthe did the same thing with the Dutch East Indies. The colony delivered the raw materials, then the value was added in the colonising country, and the final product was sold back to the colony. The only (surprising) difference in the case of Spain might be that it had lost most of its colonies even before 1898.
When I am not visiting home, like in a few weeks, I am always ex patria. Homesickness was known as La maladie suisse (the Swiss disease, Switzerland being quite fortunate in the assignment of national diseases). The Swiss soldiers in French service were prone to suicide when they heard their equivalent of "Call me maybe". Ten percent of Swiss citizens are actually living abroad, subsumed under the name of Fünfte Schweiz (Fifth Switzerland, i.e. those beyond the four language communities. Or it might be an allusion to fifth columnists such as Michelle Bachmann, the Toggenburgian candidate.
Antimacassar? Ha, learnt a new word. I didn't know that those thingies had a special name, linked in my memory to Swiss first class train seats in contrast to the plastic leather upholstery for the common man. The redesigned Austrian Airlines seats (which dropped in weight from 15 to 10 kg!) have leather antimacassars that seem to be intended for spray cleaning not washing machines.
Your mention of sad clown Van Rompuy is timely. He just won the Nobel prize. Given the institution's previous erratic choices, I hope this will not cause calamities.
I'm enjoying The House of Wittgenstein, the tales of the offspring of another 19th century robber baron, the neo-Austrian Wittgensteins, a mixture of Downton Abbey and The Addams Family. Three of the five Wittgenstein brothers ended their life by suicide which adds a different layer to Ludwig's "About what one can not speak, one must remain silent." The author tells their filthy rich but tragic lives with humor.
Masters of Money has been also uploaded to Youtube (use your Google-fu) or should be available via your BBC cable package. Marx serves as an easy target, although holding him responsible for the Berlin Wall makes as much sense as assigning Bush's clusterfucks to Abraham Lincoln. Hayek is there to sing a paean to Thatcher. The series tries to tackle too many questions at the same time without any analytic frame - money, capitalism, business cycles, monetary policy, fiscal policy, banking regulation, bubbles, economic systems, ... an intense harebrained power walk amidst beautiful landmark scenery with a neo-liberal tinge of entitlement (the author was born into BBC royalty, actress Olivia Wilde is her cousin).
The catalogue to the Wienmuseum exhibition about Angelo Soliman is outstanding. His biography, about which one knows very little beyond a CV, serves as an introduction to all kinds of explorations such as the Sahara-Mediterranean slave trade or the curious fact that only Viennese citizen were allowed to own land within the city walls, so that "foreigner" (effectively stateless) Soliman could only buy a property extra muros. I wonder whether that rule applied to noblemen too. Did Prince Eugene have to apply for a special permission when he bought the land for his Winterpalais (Belvedere palace was located extra muros).
One article is missing in the catalogue, probably because the Wienmuseum didn't want to spoil relations with the Naturhistorisches Museum: Up to the 1996 (sic!), the NHM had an ugly Rassensaal which delineated the origins and features of different races with a lot of skull measuring stuff - Wikipedia informs me that it was in 1978 (!) that such a questionable endeavor was undertaken and remained in place to 1996. When I first saw it, I was truly shocked, especially if one considers that Hitler spoke to the Viennese not 500 m distant from the Heldenplatz. This stain in the museum's history which was worse and lasted longer than the fewer than ten years that Soliman's skin was on public display in the 18th century (probably on order of Emperor Francis II).
In other news Austrian, I am reading A'nold's biography Total Recall, a strange title for someone known for faulty memories (tales of non-existent Soviet tanks cruising in his village, etc). Already the first paragraph in the English edition has a mistake, which is discretely omitted in the German translation (I checked but not whether the plentiful other mistakes are elided too). It is probably easy to sell the story of his growing up in the sticks in the US, even though Thal is six miles distant from the center of Austria's second largest city Graz. It is rural - by choice, similar but a lot closer to civilization than Thoreau's Walden Pond. Austrians will also be amazed to learn that in Arnold's imagination over 70 percent work for the government.
Given that Arnold went AWOL like George W. Bush and crashed tanks like McCain did planes but faced no consequences due to his father's connections, it was no wonder he ended up as a Republican. Another facet (understandably) not touched upon is the close similarity in upbringing to the most famous Austrian: A violent and often drunken father working in the government security sector marrying a weak girl half his age who basically neglect the boy. Arnold's fortune was to find many mentors who helped him escape out of his humble station, which young Hitler, to the world's detriment, never received.
Holland is where I was born and grew up, but that does not make it paradise. Of the places where I spent more than a holiday period there are quite a few that I consider equally nice. Home is in multiple places. That about 10% of passport holders live overseas seems not particularly much, particularly for those countries that allow double nationality.
Ah yes, antimacassars: they bring back memories of train rides in old-fashioned countries like Austria or India. People do not trust the cleaning services anymore. I'd say they belong to a time when the majority of city people had to go to the bathhouse to get cleaned and may have washed their hair once a week. European cleanliness standards where a lot lower than in Asia.
The Angelo Soliman book seems a good catch. I doubt if it was very special to restrict home ownership to citizens. I have no idea how that was in Amsterdam, but would not be surprised if equal rules existed until the days of Napoleon (whose brother confiscated the giant city hall to turn it into his palace for his role as king of Holland). I do know that citizens of Amsterdam had specific rights and duties and that it took quite some time to get the status as poorter (citizen), more time than changing nationalities now. Probably owning real estate was one of them.
A Rassensaal in Vienna until 1978 seems equally unsurprising. Denazification like in Germany never took place in Austria. But also because craniology continued after the Second World War. The Dutch did this in New Guinea, the one outcorner of their Asian empire after they lost the Dutch East Indies. As discussed before, colonialism wasn't equally intense everywhere. On my trip I read Alfred Russel Wallace's The Malay Archipelago, who said that in the 1850's the colonial presence on an island like Halmaheira (almost half the size of the motherland) consisted of one Dutch commander and three Javanese soldiers. But since the Dutch had claimed that Papuans were too different from other Indonesians to be consolidated in the same country, it had propaganda value to start showing more than a passing interest in the native population of this until that time least commercially interesting area. You may want to check at http://www.geschiedenis24.nl/andere-tijden/afleveringen/2003-2004/Sterrengebergt... (it is in Dutch, the skull measuring starts at 11:47) to see what that looked like.
I am afraid I am reading very little lately. Since I bought a new camera I am often straying from Librarything (and the Financial Times, oh dear!) to Flickr. I have always had a great liking for photography and if you look beyond the family snapshot there is a lot of talent presenting itself there, particularly among those that work in black and white.
NZZ today presented the result of the Netherland's new Austrian-style Grand Coalition as the prelude to "swallow some toads". NZZ has recently improved its NL reporting, especially on the major renovations of museums. The bathtub like addition to Amsterdam's Stedelijk Museum has been declared an eyesore by curmudgeon James H. Kunstler. In anticipation of the re-opening of the Rijksmuseum next year, the museum does already offer vast digital collections with HQ downloads for public domain works. The Dutch museum scene seems to be quite vibrant.
The "Kapital - Venedig & Amsterdam" exhibition in Zurich proved to be too ambitious. The economic history was drowned out by Venice's splendor (which receives about 3/4 of the attention). The Dutch hand-written first share of the world, the true highlight of the exhibition, will probably not even be noticed by many visitors.
The book Neukölln ist überall of one district mayor of Berlin's Turkish ghettos is currently at the top of the German charts, an opportunity I used to read up on the failed integration of the Turkish immigrants. The transformation from migrant workers to immigrants only happened because German politics in the early 1980s tried to prevent Turkish child assistance fraud by the families left behind in Turkey, only paying for family assistance for the kids living in Germany - which offered the incentive for a mass family immigration that produced a lost generation and nearly wrecked the German education system. Austria is in a similarly bad situation with half of the Austro-Turkish kids leaving school without either vocational training or tertiary education. Buschkowsky is a fan of how Rotterdam handled the issue (but both Austria and Germany will not be able to apply such a "Protestant" tough love approach).
I even learned some 200 Turkish words and some sentences. Turkish packs a huge amount of information into its words. One really has to pay attention in listening, e.g. "ailen" is "your family", while "ailem" is "my family". While the meaning of some words is no sürpriz, longer words of collections of syllables fry my brain.
The US madness hopefully will end tomorrow (fingers crossed that the Ohio salt of the earth will not decide the issue). While Obama's victory should be certain, the real issue lies in control of the house of representatives. Only a Democratic house will be able to push through the necessary stimulus package the US economy requires, as Richard Koo in the FT Explain the disease to help US citizens. An ailing patient still needs a blood infusion not further bleedings.
Nate Silver's book The signal and the noise why so many predictions is a bit disappointing as, to fill the book, he ventures beyond his areas of expertise (statistics, baseball, polling) into other areas where he stumbles. The regular appeasement of US Republican reader views is also grating (catching the "he said, she said" disease from his NY Times perch).
We do not have a grand coalition in the Netherlands. The two parties that have formed the cabinet have some 54% of the seats in the lower house and no majority in the senate. Also, some more centric parties are outside the cabinet. The new government has been in serious trouble even before it was installed by H.M. the Queen. As demanded by the social democrats the government has concluded a pact to reduce income differences that has led to an outcry in the country. Although some lower incomes may rise a few percent in 4 years time, many others will see their incomes fall with 6 percent or more (after inflation figures of 3% because a VAT-increase). The old school parties now seem to be just as good at messing up public expectations of good government as were the populists before. The post-war stable situation with a basic government pension, tax deduction for interest on mortgages and the expanding costs of healthcare in an aging society need to be addressed, but it is far from a smooth process. Holland’s gini-coefficient is slightly less egalitarian than in France or Belgium and does not require the kind of shocks now planned. The plan was concluded even though it will lead to an increase of unemployment of 150 bp, in times when the European crisis is encroaching on the country. This is seriously disrupting the housing market and consumption patterns and further reduces the trust in public office. Interestingly, most people seem to accept lower net incomes to make the national budget future-proof, but not this. My colleagues hardly talk about anything else at the coffee machine. They feel like living in Greece or Italy without the nice weather.
I have not yet made up my mind if I consider the extension of the Stedelijk Museum an eyesore. And I had never heard of James H. Kunstler. The building looks a bit plasticky from the outside, but that does not yet make it do “a splendid job of disfiguring the street”. It is actually not that visible from the main thoroughfare, due to its position in between other buildings (among other things the museum’s black elevator that reminds me of the Ka’aba). I wonder if this Mr. Kunstler has actually seen the building, or just judges on the basis of a few photographs. And although Holland seems ever more like Italy, we do not as yet hang people from lamp posts. Amsterdam is increasing its attractiveness for tourists and international knowledge workers. Not only the Stedelijk and the Rijksmuseum are upgraded, so where the Maritime Museum and the Film Museum (in a flashy building by the Viennese architects Roman Delugan and Elke Delugan-Meissl), plus that Amsterdam now has a branch of the Hermitage. All this with the books of Richard Florida in mind (Florida is the author that gives many civil servants the hope of being relevant and worthy of their budget in the Netherlands: every small town pretends to be a creative capital). There have been some complaints about the Maritime Museum. Everything is interactive to make it attractive for the younger generation, leading to some complaints that the museum is dumbing down. All this was paid for by an effective money machine of the last decade: leasing out land for houses and offices. But the crisis has brought this lucrative business to a stand-still. I wonder how they are going to pay for the maintenance in the future. My suggestion would be to tax the hotels. These land-leases has also been another money transfer from the middle classes. Amsterdam has used the money to upgrade existing social housing blocks and build new ones. Amsterdam’s suburbs and 19th century housing areas look far better than those in many other large cities.
The East India company was not really the first shareholder company in the world, although it is often said to have been. There had been various experiments with such structures in Europe before. Which should be no surprise, because the structure seems useful in all times: a limited liability with an equivalent share of profits. What was a real innovation was that the share was traded daily. Probably, there were some legal innovations as well An enormous amount of money was raised (the honourable company was a loss making business for a few decades) and the stock was traded daily for an hour or so in the same building where commodities were traded. This made it the first “modern” share in the world and Amsterdam the oldest stock market in the world. That stock market no longer exists, as it is now inside some computers owned by NYSE/Euronext and situated in a Parisian suburb. There was a popular history published recently retelling the story of the first century of stock trading in Amsterdam that I still want to read (De bakermat van de beurs). The trading in shares was almost immediately followed by front-running, as well as shorting (done by contramineurs) and trading in options and futures on the stock, albeit without the statistical magic of modern-day “quants”. All that again led to the first “how-to” guidebook to the stock market. It was written in Spanish by Joseph de la Vega, a Sephardic immigrant to Amsterdam in the form of a theatre play called Confusión de confusiones, and supposedly already contains nearly all there is to know about the stock market, including all the mistakes one can make with trading stocks.
I do recognise the description of Turkish immigrants here too, although I would not want to say that it nearly wrecked the Dutch education system. Since the 1960’s, the Dutch have absorbed immigrants of different groups than the Germans: almost no Italians but more Moroccans. This seems to be caused mainly by demographic differences due to the Second World War. Due to lacking men, labour shortages in sunset industries started earlier in Germany. This means that Holland has more Muslim immigrants than Germany or Austria. You would expect that this was no issue, given that the Netherlands were the state with the second largest Muslim population in the world (after Great Britain, of course). But it still takes at least three generations to integrate immigrants here. All the while they are a burden to the government in a modern welfare state. There are notable differences between Turkish and Moroccan immigrants. The Turks have much stronger family relations and the Turkish state invests much more energy in maintaining ties with its emigrants, making integration a slower process. The Moroccans seem more individualistic, which has led to a higher level of integration of some (notice the number of Arabic names now in the Dutch national football team whilst there are no Turkish names) and Islamic radicalism by some others. But integration is progressing, despite that the younger generation is more religious in an environment that is not. The number of marriages with partners from the country of origin has nearly come to a standstill, now that more potential partners are available here. The younger generation all speaks fluent Dutch (and I no Turkish), while I very much enjoyed last summer’s fashion of hijabs and miniskirts. That said, it is very much doubted here if Rotterdam’s approach has been more successful than that of Amsterdam’s mayor Job Cohen, infamous among many for his “tea-drinking” in mosques. So much for Calvinistic whom the Lord loveth he correcteth. Intuitively I think that neither approach made much difference, because integration is a largely endogenous process. Proximity to the new culture is the only thing that can speed up integration. In that sense it is great Holland had colonies, now that importing Germans is too expensive. Germans, of course, were our Turks for centuries. Cheap labour was plentiful in Prussia and Westphalia.
Sorry for not responding sooner. The original "message deleted" tricked me from opening the thread again.
Last Friday, I listened to Robert Shiller promoting his new book Finance and the good society in the Austrian Central Bank. I must admit I still haven't finished his (short) Animal Spirits book but will certainly not pick up his latest. Based on the ideas of his talk, its current LT rating of 1.75 is not that far off. Shiller is a defender of the (failed) status quo. In contrast to the ideological hacks and flacks like Mankiw and Cowen, he at least acknowledges the failures of the existing system. Trashing Occupy Wall Street is both irrelevant and lazy. His conservative "more of the same" approach isn't very effective. Ineffectiveness is the word to describe the guy who warned about the Dotcom and the real estate bubbles but was ignored by the owners of USA Inc.
James H. Kunstler is a US crank (justly) lamenting the US suburbanization and car dependency. His The geography of nowhere is a good read but as most other books about the topic offers no practical solutions to reverse the trend. It was fun to look at the places he describes via Google Street View. Most of the times, I found the places not as dire as he described them. He has (like me) probably only seen pictures or videos about the Stedelijk Museum. Not everybody is as fortunate to live in such a wonderful city (I can't complain though, Vienna is splendid too. There are finally plans to make Prince Eugene's city palace finally open to the public as well. The finance ministry doesn't deserve such a splendid building.).
While I am still digesting volume 2 of 4 of Christopher Alexander's previous work, he has a new 500 page book in print: The Battle for the Life and Beauty of the Earth. Still 1000 pages to read before I will tackle (or buy) this one.
There is a 2010 Dutch website about the world's oldest share, which doesn't mention the share's current excursion to Zurich. The exhibition unfortunately didn't make the connection to modern initiatives of crowdfunding such as Kiva. A great illustration of the Kiva's global funding flows.
Amsterdam's Maritime Museum looks very interesting and well presented. I have never understood the appeal of film museums. Collecting and curating films is important, their presentation in a museum format or curated viewings (such as Fritz Lang retrospective currently in Vienna's Filmmuseum) I mostly find wanting. I prefer watching (obscure) films on DVD or YouTube at home. The recent Wienmuseum exhibition Wien im Film was rather flat too.
The German immigrants currently are all over Austria and Switzerland (with Austria attracting a lot of East Germans). In Switzerland, many tourist jobs are now filled with Germans who have an advantage compared to other foreigners in being able to mostly understand the locals. The terribly bad book written by the SZ correspondent in Switzerland includes the gem of him and his family learning from a North German how to milk a cow in the Swiss Alps.
While the German infusion in the lower wage service industries is welcome in Switzerland, there is a growing resentment of highly skilled German immigrants (professors, doctors, lawyers, etc.) which start to crowd out middle income Swiss in the housing market and schools. The circle of social change keeps on turning.
Being one of the few who found the new James Bond terrible (stupid plot), I was delighted with Affleck's spy heist Argo. It still glorifies the astoundingly incompetent CIA (which, for starters, after nearly three quarters of a year still hasn't managed to notice that Switzerland has a new central bank chairman. In April, it even "reviewed" the then already wrong data.). Argo shows the great classic Swissair logo which I hardly remember - in my mind, Swissair is linked to its blander but still memorable 1982 branding.
Here's the note again. I have still been busy mostly with photography lately and enjoying the Fllickr jungle. A much younger acquaintance is doing the same and much to my surprise I seem to enjoy more of the social media than he does. It might be social media, but you can use the language of your MBA (if necessary in Powerpoint) to explain what goes on there: marketing is key. And you can just call uploading a picture the introduction of a new product. But as a consequence I hardly read books lately. I just try to keep up with the newspaper and some reports that find their way to my internet connection.
Amsterdam a splendid city? It is a nice example of a large 17th century city and it manages to maintain its role as the centre of the country. But the canals in other Dutch cities like Delft can be just as nice. And the centre becomes more and more a playground for tourists and countryside shoppers. Luckily there is still the splendid zone of early 20th century architecture for the locals. If you would revisit quiant little The Hague you would be surprised by the number of shiny highrises that the Dutch bureaucracy now occupies and that are even visible from the venerable Binnenhof, as you can see on the picture on the Wikipedia page. I think only the Ministry of Defence is still housed in its old buildings. But then again, that ministry mainly serves as a wonderful source of spending cuts. I do not know if I have said this before, but the scale of modern business sometimes surprises me if I compare it to historical examples. The East India Company ran an empire on three continents with tens of thousands of staff (in total 2 million in 200 years) from this complex in Amsterdam. Actually, there were equivalent chambers in other Dutch cities, but Amsterdam ran half the business.
I understand that integration into Swiss society is rather difficult. Some time ago the newspaper had an article about Swiss society and that it may require multiple generations (depending upon the canton) to get really accepted. Knowledge of German does help just a little bit, as the Swiss Germans insist on their funny dialect (as is the case in much of southern and middle Germany and the zone also includes Dutch Limburg) instead of the proper langue de Goethe. It was explained with the extremely decentralised organisation of Switzerland that Nassim Taleb so much enjoys.
The crowding out of the Swiss middle classes proofs that globalisation has now reached every corner of Europe. If the Swiss cannot shield themselves, who can? You saw it here also. International truck driver salaries for example rose much less than the salaries of construction workers until a few years ago. Globalisation drives down prices at least temporarily.
Flickr is a great resource and hopefully recovers from years of Yahoo mismanagement. When I find some time, I would like to dabble with cinemagraphs. Still, I prefer pictures with some con-text.
Having recently seen a great exhibition about unknown Austrian painter Franz Zadrazil who painted the decaying mom and pop stores of Vienna and New York, I found James and Karla Murray's NY store photographs a great companion. The mini edition isn't so mini at all, with pictures at A5 size. Some of the areas they covered lately received too much of New York's water, necessary to give US mozzarella its special flavor. In Vienna, there is a debate going on what to do with those abandoned rooms, as they are often too small, of limited height, lacking isolation and sanitary installations. Real estate costs and Baumol's disease hitting small ticket item goods.
A few years ago, I marveled at the Archivo General de Indias in Sevilla, Spain, which occupies the old merchants' exchange. The Dutch one I have yet to see, but I don't wonder that it was small thanks to the power of delegation and distance. Warren Buffett's Omaha HQ likewise will be very small. In The Island at the Center of the World about New Amsterdam, the locals are always complaining about having to wait for instructions from HQ that usually turn out to be outdated or inapplicable. The guy on the spot has to do the troubleshooting.
When I visited The Hague on a beautiful summer day, it was remarkably empty of people. An extreme contrast to Amsterdam which never suffers a shortage of people and bikes. In my reading about cities, I am now approaching the 20th century in Sebag-Montefiore's Jerusalem which won out against Hughes' Rome. As the BBC currently features a three-part documentary about Rome by Sebag-Montefiore, this is a cute inversion. Also in Rome, and also in the catacombs was the BBC's crazy art history Pole Waldemar Januszczak. I hope to find time over Xmas to catch up with all those episodes. As your great review has already stated everything about Jerusalem the book, let me just note my amazement how many times the poor city was sacked and destroyed (by invaders and earthquakes) in its history - like camping on the autobahn.
In Vienna's Kunsthistorisches Museum, there is currently a great small traveling exhibition (14 statues): Bunte Götter (colorful gods) which is the latest incarnation of a German research project analyzes paint on statues with UV rays. It turns out that the classical world looked not classic at all but preferred garish, childish Disney style colors - with a clear separation between sculptors and painters. I wonder what Gesamtkunstwerk Michelangelo, painter and sculptor (and poet), would have made. Pygmalion's original ivory sex doll must have been painted too. The Greeks and Romans were pre-modern in their conceptions (Norbert Elias).
Florian Illies who a decade ago turned Douglas Copeland's Generation X into a German Generation Golf now repackages Wikipedia trivia in an amusing booklet about the World of Yesterday: 1913 der Sommer des Jahrhunderts (surprisingly, Stefan Zweig does not make an appearance - Karl Kraus, Franz Kafka, Georg Trakl, Thomas Mann and Oskar Kokoschka take center stage).
Meanwhile in Salzburg, the local city government managed to sink 350 million Euros with derivative contracts (on Turkish lira and Polish zlotys). Austerity measures consist in slashing sensible government spending to repay investment bankers for foolish contracts.
When I visited The Hague on a beautiful summer day, it was remarkably empty of people. An extreme contrast to Amsterdam which never suffers a shortage of people and bikes.
The Hague always looks half asleep compared to Amsterdam. Part of that is illusion: activities tend to be semi-hidden. On beautiful summer days half the population will move to the beach though, whereas Amsterdam simply doesn't have one.
Meanwhile, in bringing you the latest European Song Contest news, Switzerland has launched its answer to Finland's Lordi, sending the Salvation Army to Malmö. Switzerland's last win in 1988 catapulted Céline Dion to stardom.
Malmö, Sweden, otherwise a bedroom suburb to Copenhagen, features two architectural marvels: Calatrava's Turning Torso (whose top floor one now can apparently visit in summer) and the Öresund Bridge, "star" of the eponymous Danish-Swedish hit series Bron/The Bridge.
Besides being half asleep compared to Amsterdam (even more so if you are on the tourist trail), BarkingMatt is half right. The people in The Hague have a beach within their city borders with easy access by tram. Amsterdamers have their own beach in what is normally a 30 minutes ride. With limmited access roads, this can become 3 hours in summer.
Apologies for my late response. I spent a few days in the land of Schmalzbrot in the city of Currywurst. The last time I had had a proper look at Berlin was in a time when this was still particularly cool music. And when you popped your head above the Wall, the East German border police would point and shoot you with their Praktica cameras. It is interesting how things have changed since the wall came tumbling down in 1989. It seems as if time has gone differently in Berlin than in Amsterdam. First of all, all memories of East German backwardedness seem to have disappeared, not much from the city centre, but also from the few suburbs I visited (to go to the Stasi Museum and the Stasi Prison). The pockmarks of gunfire during the Battle of Berllin have disappeared almost everywhere. Wherever the German Democratic Republic is portrayed, it is in a negative manner. The people who died trying to cross the border are now greater heroes than in the 1980's. Few things are said about all those East Germans who simply collaborated with the regime, as if denazification in West Germany went much further. Nothing positive is said about the German Democratic Republic, a remarkable change of heart for those who were lefties in the 1980's. Time has gone very fast here: beyond its limitations to the freedom of expression, East Germany is simply forgotten. In other ways, if you travel on the U-Bahn in West-Berlin, nothing much seem to have changed. You still see elderly people dressed like if the early 1950's have just passed. Kreuzberg is still full of lefties that could be called Ewiggestrige as much as a certain earlier generation. And most surprising, around the Nollendorfplatz, old fashioned heroin addicts roam around. Some are even very young. It catapulted me straight back to this.
My timing was not very appropriate. Although the museums were nicely quiet, much of the city was turned into one big Weihnachtsmarkt, a concept that the Germans unfortunately have also exported to Holland (as they now have a Bavarian beerhall in Berlin, dreadful!). However, here it does not mean that all the pubs and everything else is empty. Plus it was dreadfully cold. Still, it was an interesting short trip and not so expensive. After a decade of lacking salary increases, the Germans have turned all their proverbial energy into an endles Schnäppchenjagd (bargain hunt). My espresso in upmarket Prenzlauerberg was just EUR 1.30. If we have to get back to that level we still have some deleveraging to go in Amsterdam.
Interesting that Salzburg manages to lose on derivative contracts in zlotys and Turkish lira. What did they need those for? Here we also see semi public institutions like housing boards losing money on certain interest rate swaps. Some cities also concluded interest rate swaps for projects that would never materialise whilst the swaps are now far out of the money. But I have not learned about any derivatives in, ahum, emerging market currencies (some provinces had parked excess cash in Iceland instead of at the Dutch Municipal Bank, with its extremely dull and strong AAA-rating). I really wonder what the "business case" behind Salzburg's trades were. Obviously there have been independent consultants and investment banks as counterparties. Here those organisations investing in these instruments were celebrated as sophisticates by the investment banks that were their counterparties. ABN AMRO, Nomura, but particularly Deutsche Bank were involved in this. Deutsche is now expanding here in the market for midsized corporations. I wonder what victims they will create next. Christmas markets, Deutsche Bank, Aldi, Mediamarkt: there isn't much nice coming from the east in the last decade or so.
Yes, it must have been a great time to be some regional head for the East India Company. If you did not agree with an instruction, you protested, and it could take 18 months before you got an answer again. But the lords who ran the business (with increasing corruption) were also pretty down-to-earth towards each other. Obviously, there was no elevator to a Chefetage. However, senior management was forced to perform certain tasks themselves, like checking on the quality of ship doctors, handling precious metals and seeing off ships at Texel. They could not insulate themselves from the rif-raf like Mitt Romney. On the other hand, the lords never visited the factories in the East and their accounting was a continous nightmare.
Yes, the classical world looked more garish, and not just in the east. All that famous T'ang dynasty pottery that now looks so serene had vivid colours. Would Norbert Elias say the restraint in colour is a sign of progress in the development of human civilisation?
Simon Sebag-Montefiore's Jerusalem is a good read for the festive season. I enjoyed it very much and will certainly re-read before a trip to Israel. I hope you like it. Meanwhile I hope to be equally in tune with season by reading Dinner with Churchill: Policy-making at the Dinner Table. After all, the end of the year is the time for whisky, cigars and champagne, and who symbolises that better than the Greatest Brit who ever lived? I hope it will keep me entertainted, because it seems I won't be able to watch those BBC4 documentaries, unless I access them via a proxy server in a third country. It is a pity, because I watch less and less television.
Happy holidays to all readers!
TV is a legacy medium, still suitable for mass events (sports). It - in its European variety - still provides me with quality fodder (series, documentaries) that both Hollywood and the web are yet unable to provide. I like travel documentaries both for inspiration and recollection. History documentaries unfortunately tend to be cut into ADD-oriented, near content-free snippets. Oh, the temerity of exposing the brittle audience to a long take.
I revisted the Amsterdam part of Zurich's Kapital exhibition and only now noted the difference between Amsterdam's tic-tac-toe flag and coat of arms. The wind is much kinder to a horizontal arrangement (a fact noticed too by some Swiss cantons that likewise shift their flag from a vertical coat of arms design).
Churchill created quite a mess in matters colonial and kept to outdated ideas long past their prime (similarly: Wellington). His opposition to modern social democratic institutions makes him a real old foggy. Greatest Brit is certainly William Shakespeare.
Salzburg's business case was guanxi, selling unnecessary and dangerous products to incompetents who failed to understand the complexity of the currency and interest rate swaps. They put hand grenades into the hands of (mental) children - and now offer their services in cleaning up the mess.
Some tasks Mitt prefers to do himself too. Remember he loves to fire people. Or did his chickenhawk side win, delegating the confrontation with his victims to his underlings? Given the latest US gun massacre, I finally picked up a book about the tragedy of Columbine which could have been prevented with a bit of care by the parents, the school and the local administration. I have long resisted reading it because of its subject matter. Mitt Romney shows most of the signs of a psychopath listed in the book. The US and the world fortunately was spared having him in command of the nuclear football.
Berlin, I have visited three times. Firstly, during the Cold War (with a scary crossing into the GDR sector on a German nationals tour bus which was examined awfully closely). Secondly, a few years after the fall of the Berlin wall and finally, two years ago. The change and rebirth of the city is remarkable and its museums are marvels (although I hate passing the Ishtar Gate in reverse order). It is, however, still a heavily proletarian city with too many people in track suits in the city center (a very Eastern European practice).
Re Norbert Elias, I'd argue that restraint in the color selection is a sign of civilization, turning a copied representation into a symbolic one.
Now, I have to go and decorate a Christmas tree. Merry Christmas!
Oh dear! It seems nobody takes over my role in my moments of weakness. Anyway. I do not do new year resolutions, but it is my intention to read more again in 2013. This will also bring me back to Librarything. Librarything was helpful in disciplining me to really finish all the books I started reading. The pleasure of the image made me laps and I still have not finished Dinner with Churchill, although I blame this on the rather weak content of the book, of course. And I know Churchill was no saint. It was not by accident that he claimed he wanted to write the history about his person himself. But given that he was involved in the affaris in much of the late 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, I still find him an interesting object of study, his flaws included.
In the mean time I have made quite a switch in economic thinking. Some good reports that arrived via Twitter showed the consequences of Holland's long-term dedication to be a minor Exportweltmeister next to Germany. The Dutch balance of trade is even "better" than Germany's. Companies dependent upon the domestic market are under-investing due to lacking demand. Expectedly, domestic demand is going to fall for 3 years in a row with 2% p.a. If you'd compare that with an average growth of 1.5% (given our demographics), that leads to a pretty whopping difference. It is also interesting to see that some of the credit raters see the fall in demand as a greater threat to the Dutch AAA-rating than the rather high spending deficit of the state. Some economists suggest a wage increase in exchange for more flexibility in the labour markets. If that is such a good think I'm not so sure. But the government could stimulate the salary increase by increasing the payment of civil servants, in line with what Germany did last year. The salary increase isn't even that costly. At best, the extreme profits of corporations should be used for a consumption injection. They do not have enough investment opportunities anyway. It is an interesting thought. And probably better than the American way to stimulate the economy:
More than one in four American workers with 401(k) and other retirement savings accounts use them to pay current expenses, new data show. The withdrawals, cash-outs and loans drain nearly a quarter of the $293 billion that workers and employers deposit into the accounts each year, undermining already shaky retirement security for millions of Americans.
It is also best done voluntarily. Belgium is another country that kept consumption afloat through its law for automatic price compensation for inflation. It is now losing half its car industry within 6 months or so. Much of the work is relocated to Spain, where labour costs are now quite a lot lower. The friction unemployment it creates may not disappear so quickly.
Berlin claims to be arm aber sexy ("poor but sexy"). I agree I found it poor rather than sexy, but track suits seem to have disappeared from the scene. Or maybe it was just too cold. It was about -5 degrees with hard wind in those broad streets. The mulled wine was an appropriate medicine, though. And yes, the Ishtar Gate is marvelous, besides being largely fake.
Churchill's entry to New York on board of the Queen Mary in 1943 makes a wonderful quirky entry to Rick Atkinson's The day of battle : the war in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944, the second volume of how the USA built up a professional army in giant baby steps, nursed along by an exhausted Britain. While I find Churchill's personality fascinating and his stance against the Kaiser and Hitler noble, he unnecessarily messed up both domestic affairs and abroad in a vain attempt to stop progress.
If you read just a chapter a day, you should be able to finish at least a book per week. I hope you join my Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio read along. I am currently reading Jared Diamond's unconvincing new book about the "noble savages", The World until Yesterday which was published in German already last fall (but I mistook it for a republication of "Collapse"). The book is filled with interesting facts such as that members of traditional societies didn't travel much because traveling was extremely dangerous and strangers most likely to be killed. For many of Diamond's examples, he didn't have to travel all the way to New Guinea. There is plenty of tribal behavior at home.
I wonder whether small open economies such as NL, CH or AT can influence their macro climate. Both CH and AT ride along the coattails of the German economic policies. What they can and should do is improve their economic structure and invest in infrastructure. Dan Snow's new BBC documentary Locomotion shows how railroads transformed Britain in the 19th century (I liked virtually re-visiting Liverpool and Manchester).
Propping up the car industry is a bad public investment. Car factories no longer are labor-intensive (mostly assembling modules built elsewhere), there are huge over-capacities and much of the value of a car lies in its software. Outsourcing car manufacturing from Germany to Austria or France to Belgium made more political than economic sense anyway. The Belgian car factories have been ailing for a long, long time. It would have made more sense closing them during a boom phase, though.
While Salzburg continues to reveal abysmal financial management (with a hidden debt-financed investment portfolio of 1 billion EUR!), at least on the old corruption front, there is some light: The former interior minister was just sentenced to four years in prison for corruption. Tomorrow, a sentence is expected for the husband of the former health minister and the case against the former finance minister is also inching along.
I used to read about 50 pages a day, with an average of about 40 pages per hour. The latter depending mostly on whether I would take notes or not. I have been sloppy with that rhythm, also because I do need my 7 hours of sleep. But I shall read your Chinese Studio along, or at least the topic on Librarything.
It seems I am now more Keynesian than you are. But the debate is still on-going here as well. Twitter cheers me up with messages about average and marginal Keynesian multipliers. As a specialist in services, Holland produces relatively few of the large investments households do (cars, washing machines, computers, etc.) and that make some claim that any injection into household purchasing power would simply disappear to neighbouring countries. However, the housing market, the biggest investment a household can make, is still largely a domestic market. That market has gone belly up as well. The thing is, the Dutch have controlled labour costs for the last 12 years already. This has created a 10% income gap. Salary increases are now below inflation and the government has increased taxation taking an extra bite out of household real incomes. Corporate savings on the other hand are way above the European average. The trade surplus (exports - imports) is now 8% of GDP (although I find these percentages always a bit tricky to assess, due to the large role Holland plays as a shadow banking centre, far larger than Switzerland, for example). Corporations can increase salaries and thus stimulate domestic markets. The government's role would be to ignite at relatively limited costs this by increasing civil servant salaries. Each industry sector could then adjust according to its relative strength, as the Germans did.
But you are right, in general governments are better at screwing up the economy than in improving them. The government here has done that by announcing all kinds of measures that will seriously alter families' cash flows. However, these measures will be taken in the coming years, and nobody knows how this will work out for him. Hence, no houses are bought and car sales have fallen a lot. Much of these measures are because the social democrats demanded greater income equality for which there is no real case. Dutch income equality is greater than the European average, albeit not as equal as in Scandinavia or France.
Car production may indeed be mostly a business you can outsource to emerging market areas like Poland and northern England. However, elsewhere in Europe there are such areas too. The Belgians are not propping up their car industry. Those working in Antwerp may find jobs quite easily elsewhere, but I doubt that for those in Wallonia.
I googled Salzburg and derivatives and it seems they have really operated as a hedge fund. This was pure trading for account and risk of Salzburg's tax payers. It usually ends badly and it is worse than the cases we have seen here (except at one housing corporation). And again, it seems Deutsche Bank has made good money on the case.
There is enough tribal behaviour close to home as well. The Dutch primate park Apenheul does workshops for corporates showing how close to the great apes our behaviour still is. Doubtlessly, such tours are available in Austria too. I am less sure such tours will reduce the behaviour of alpha males and females, or just confirm them that it is perfectly normal what they do.
Perhaps this might give Wallonia an incentive to finally develop a USP. Actionism such as the French government setting up a Louvre in exile does not make much sense - though it reminds me that I haven't visited Lille yet.
What the developed economies need (beside sensible Keynesian investments) is a rethinking of the tax regimes. Instead of taxing mostly labor (with Austria's 50% income tax rate bites starting from a not so generous 60.000 EUR; in Germany, almost all productivity gains have been eaten up by increased taxation), a modern tax system would target rent-seeking. The increasing winner-takes-all inequality makes the systematic tax evasion of the ultra-rich like Mitt Romney (who paid barely any taxes but had the government pay for the access roads to his Utah mansion) troublesome.
A modern tax system would place a heavy burden on rent-seekers (such as the mega-rich recipients of EU agricultural subventions or intellectual property right owners). The beauty of it is that rents can be taxed quite easily and efficiently. The problem is that the mega-rich hold most democracies hostage (similar to how the nobility held France hostage prior to the revolution).
Do we have such private rent-seekers in or north of the Alps? I would not know. We do have corporates that seek EU agricultural subsidies to beef up their P&L. But the whole EU agricultural policy is a shame, of course. As far as profits are fat, Dutch workers are all large shareholders via their pension funds. So as long as profits are not skimmed by managers who claim to add 40 times as much added value as those under them, much of that money can be channeled back to a comfortable retirement. Then you get to other rentseekers, e.g. banks and their employees. Salaries in the banking sector are about 10% above average. Part of banks profits can be explained out of the implicit guarantee of government that they will save systemically important banks. But again, part of that profit goes back to workers, who have to give half that money to the government in income tax.
You pay just 50% income tax? And you start paying that at 60K? That is quite nice. Here the maximum rate is 52% and it starts at € 56,491. At least that is what people think. There are social security charges and a tax to fund those who do not pay their mandatory health insurance, which turn the effective marginal rate towards the 60%. However, there are tax deductions, e.g. interest on mortgages and childcare costs. These deductions are now strongly curtailed, driving up the average tax rate for many households. So far there was effectively an almost flat income tax rate of 40% across income groups. When I told this in Indonesia, the young guy that drove me around on his motorbike reacted saying that Indonesians used to be exploited by the Dutch state, but he felt it was now the Dutch people themselves. I had not told them that if you spend money from the 48% of the salary that reaches your bank account, you get hit by another 21% value added tax. That brings your marginal net purchasing power well below 40% of your labour income. I must admit I find it quite obscene that some authority claims that it knows better ways to spend 60% of the (albeit marginal) income of a large part of the population. That percentage has not changed very much through time. Two decades ago, labour was taxed even higher. Then income tax was reduced in exchange for an increase in VAT.
You could by the way think of increasing taxation on inheritances. It would not be good to create a generation of rentiers if the baby boom generation dies. However, it seems baby boomers, who profited so handsomely from the increase in wealth, not in the least by running government debts, do not intend to leave much behind. Inheritances do not rise very much, as baby boomers spend most of their accumulated wealth.
That leaves you with another group of rent seekers: those who work in the semi-private/government sector, like housing corporations, broadcasting unions and universities. Claiming to work in a market environment but practically often protected from the market through regulation, hese men and women, often from a social democratic background, often get far more pay than the minister of finance or the head of the central bank. Reducing their pay, which I consider a good thing to do, will however have no material impact on state finances.
That said, Lille is quite nice, although not that special. It is a city with a Flemish heart, surrounded by French boulevards, probably again surrounded by banlieues that are even more French. Lille is simply a nice stop in the north of France to get a meal of moules-frites on the way back from Paris. Never having been to Lens or Nancy, I prefer Reims, which is a picture postcard French provincial town.
The Basel economic research/think tank publishes a BAK Taxation Index 2011 which compares the effective taxation for incomes of 100.000 EUR and companies. One has to look at effective tax rates because the creation of tax shields is a minor industry (e.g. in Austria, you can buy pre-packaged real estate investments whose upfront losses can be offset against other income). The trouble of taxation is that the rich a person is the easier it is to shelter income and wealth (poster boy Mitt Romney paid almost no taxes), so that the middle class (which can not escape as easily) has to pay most of the taxes collected.
I am surprised seeing NL's effective tax rate at 43,5%. Austria (37,6%) tries to stay always a bit below the German level of 39,6%. The well-known pilgrimage of Belgian dentists to Luxembourg becomes understandable at a rate of 57%. What is crazy though, is that despite those crushing rates, the Belgian government still manages to be in deficit, some of which can be explained by its idiotic federalism where all parts must have equal presents.
Switzerland's low rates can be sustained due to better government. In recent years, many communities have been merged into larger communities thus reducing the administrative overhead. Austria, finally, tries to follow but still has thousands of communities of under 1000 souls, each of which has a (part-time) mayor and staff paid by the central government. The central government collects all taxes, the local and state governments spend like drunken sailors.
In March there will be an interesting referendum to curb CEO compensation in Switzerland (Minder Initiative). Polls are close as the populist anger from the left and right clashes with the forces of the establishment. I am currently reading a short history of one of Switzerland's old cantons, Schwyz, where this type of conflict between the people and oligarchic families has a proud tradition (even if the people usually loses in the end).
I always find it very difficult to compare income and tax levels across countries. For one thing: north of Rome all of Europe looks about equally rich, with Switzerland looking somewhat richer. If that is because the Swiss run their government more effectively I would not know. With its low tax rates it attracts lots of foreign money that it can tax. These people are even so rich they are not a burden to the Swiss coffers. That is a good deal for the rest of Switzerland. The Swiss welfare state may also be less generous than elsewhere in Europe.
What makes tax rates so difficult to compare is because it is often unclear what is included. E.g. the Dutch have a lot of pension funds where a more than 20% of their salaries go. That part of income is not taxed now, but once pensions are paid. Receiving up to 80% of his income as a worker, the tax scale for a pensioner may well be lower (although he gets no deductions for working nowadays, driving up his effective tax rate). If you would average these income flows, the tax rate may become a few percent lower also. But given that the average Dutch household seems to spend over 3K euro per month, there are many close to that EUR 100K bracket that you showed. Corporate taxes have gone down during the last decades and the welfare state is now fully paid by the middle classes.
I finally finished Dinner with Churchill, which was a bit disappointing indeed. And if I projected some of Sir Winston's behaviour on some people I know, he was even more vain and irritating than I expected. I am now working my way through Das grosse Fressen, a book about German culinary history that I had found in the Schnäppchen corner of a bookstore in Prenzlauerberg. It is meant to be humorous, and the humor is presented with typical German heavy-handedness. I found quite a few small bookstores in Berlin. Here it is increasingly a tough job to run a bookstore.
" The most Latin of all Latinos are of course the Anglos."
News to me. Linguistically the English language has much French and Latin influence, but it's fundamentally a Germanic language. The Germanic roots are most clearly experienced in the dialects.
>84 You are correct that English is mostly a Germanic language. The French influence is restricted to loan words for concepts the Normans considered themselves superior such as "courage" or "intelligence".
Mercure used the term "the most Latin of all Latinos" in the manner of "holier than the Pope" (whose holiness is usually denied by a speaker using that expression). If you re-read the paragraph, it should become clear that he jokingly expressed the idea that the English and the Americans are the least likely to master a foreign tongue (Americans are even unwilling to watch most English TV series - the tiny sliver of Downton Abbey and Sherlock fans excepted).
I am always puzzled why foreign language instruction in the US is such a complete failure. Many Americans from the Midwest, for instance, had German lessons in school for multiple years and are still unable to form even simple sentences. About 100 hours of basic instruction should be sufficient to reach level A1 "Where is the station?" Handing a student a Pimsleur course would be much more efficient than class instruction.
Bookstores are rapidly disappearing. Dropping like flies is more appropriate. One of Vienna's best on the expensive Kohlmarkt recently closed (replaced by a jewelry boutique). In Zurich, the small French-Italian-Spanish bookstore Romanica will close by March (because it couldn't pay the rent increase to 20.000 CHF a month). Books suffer from an extreme Pareto distribution with 50 titles accounting for 80 percent of annual turnover (most of which concentrated in December). Just like most travel agencies can survive only as specialists, your standard bookstore will disappear. With the elimination of its Jews, Berlin (and Prague and Vienna as well) also destroyed its/their book culture.
NZZ just published a not so nice portrait of Berlin: "Nicht zuletzt lebensweltlich-ästhetisch ist dafür ein Preis zu zahlen: Ob in literarischen Salons oder in Szenebars – fast immer wundern sich Berliner Zeit-Aufenthalter aus Mumbai, Sydney, New York oder Tel Aviv darüber, wie homogen und provinziell die selbsterklärte «Partywelthauptstadt» geblieben ist." ("In both lifestyle and aesthetics there is a price to be paid: Whether in literary salons or in scene bars, almost always visitors to Berlin from Mumbai, Sydney, New York or Tel Aviv wonder how provincial and homogenous the self-declared "party capital of the world" is."). Doubling down in castigating the weak, also in NZZ: Mr. Wowereit, open this gate!.
I indeed meant my remark about Americans being the ultimate Latinos jokingly. Actually, the American Latinos probably mostly speak two languages. And Americans are still better at foreign tongues than their limy cousins on this side of the Atlantic. I would have no idea how Canada is doing, just that Mme. Walser personally increases the average: she seems to read books in every European language around.
I think we should not be to harsh with Berlin. The city has been in an unfavourable position since 1945 (or doomed since 1933, whatever your perspective). Many large companies based in or around Berlin re-established themselves in states with cheap labour like Bavaria (the one now complaining about supporting Berlin). The national airport and the banks all moved to Frankfurt, which was more centrally located in West-Germany. Berlin was no longer in the centre of the country, East-Berlin at best the centre of industries that could not compete in a capitalist environment. The subsidies and the absence of the draft for your men made Berlin attractive for everybody who disliked "capitalism". Berlin still has large immigrant communities, most notably from Turkey and Vietnam. You may not see these people much in the "scene", but that might be quite the same in many other places, and certainly in Mumbai. And although I was puzzled by the acceptance of all these signs with verboten (yes, mainly in the former East-Berlin), I still prefer "Prussia" to certain areas south of the Main, most notably Bavaria. The fact that Germans have never voted a Bavarian as chancellor is to their credit.
And for the rest, the NZZ is an excellent old-fashioned newspaper. They do not make them like this anymore in Holland. Here everything has to be flashy and given all the attention to non-news frivolous. Amsterdam is another city that has lost part of its literary culture after the elimination of its Jewish population (it considered itself "the Jerusalem of the West", having increased its Jewis population with refugees from countries to the east).
Talking about Amsterdam, the New York Times has given its verdict about the Stedelijk:
Offhand I can’t recall seeing a more ridiculous looking building than the new Stedelijk Museum, which recently opened here. Shaped like a bathtub, of all things, it arrives years behind schedule at the tail end of the money-fueled, headline-hungry, erratically ingenious era of indulgent museum design that began to peter out with the global economy.
Still it attracted way more visitors than anticipated, even despite the rather steep entrance fee of EUR 17.50.
More news that you may like: supposedly Austrian banks helped the Serbian drug trader Darko Saric to hide 1.7 billion euro in two Dutch corporations. No details yet given.
(#86 You know what they say about talking of the devil...)
Indo-European languages, one discovers, are far too easy to acquire, after the first ten or so, especially for passive use. I wonder whether I'll have the time before kicking off for complete mastery of something novel: Chinese or Japanese or Persian or even Arabic, which I spoke once, as kids do.
That does look funny.
Very saddened by the news of bookstores closing in Vienna, J-C. I've been buying quite a bit from German-based sellers on Abe (much of it still un-entered); I had the impression there were more sellers than ever.
Sad about the demise of HMV as well. I can't picture strolling in a city without plentiful bookstores and music shops to browse in.
Re Stedelijk: Whatever, it may look ridiculous but so does the NY Guggenheim. I'm glad it's at last finally open again. Same for the Rijksmuseum (soon to be reopened, hopefully). Maybe I'll visit Amsterdam again when they finally reopen the latter as well. Without those museums Amsterdam is just another pile of people (to me).
I'm still lost how they could decide to close both museums at the same time. Didn't anybody think about the effect on tourist trade? They must have lost (or rather missed out) big-time over the years.
talking of the devil...
You responded quickly indeed!
Chinese is hopeless. I tried my luck once at Cantonese, but I never got around hearing the difference between Sunday and Monday (or was it Monday and Tuesday?). Cantonese has more tones than Mandarin, and I never understood how people managed to get a taxi home after a night of too much alcohol. The worst about Chinese is that you have completely no vocabulary to start with. Grammar is not the issue, because East Asian languages are far simpler in that respect. Indonesian however is a delight. Being syncretists, Indonesians have derived ninety percent (!) of their vocabulary from foreign languages. And you can read it. You can pick up words just reading billboards on the bus and asking another passenger about the meaning of words.
I don't think the situation is as bad in Amsterdam as J-C pictures Vienna's. You see some antiquarian bookstores closing or moving to the internet. Specialised bookstores seem to do okay. The large general bookstores seem to be a different matter. And music stores, I would not be surprised if there were only 10 left. Everything becomes a fashion store, and mostly ladies' fashion. It seems only women want to pay enough (and for clothes only) to pay rents for prime shopping areas. Which makes you wonder about the now proverbial female level-headedness.
You should not despair however (about shopping streets), according to this comment in the Financial Times, as the best is yet to come:
This week Blockbuster and HMV joined the grim list of British retailers killed by technology. The news, coming shortly after Jessops and Comet also announced closures, was appropriately met by wistful nostalgia and sympathy for those who lost their jobs. The fact that shops have been outcompeted by foreign, usually American, online companies, also plays to patriotic sentiment. It is easy to feel despair as creative destruction wields its mighty power. However, the apocalyptic reactions of those who see a bleak future for “going” shopping are misplaced. The high street is not dead. It is being reborn.
Retailers that can adapt will flourish. In 2008, Sir Terence Conran told me that soon, all his shops would be showrooms, physically displaying products and brands that would be later purchased online. This was no statement of surrender. It was an acknowledgment by a renowned professional that technology would change his approach and he was ready for it. Sir Terence was not the only one: the “brand cathedrals” of Apple, Burberry and Prada are testaments to how shops can be fun, entertaining and contemporary.
Today is my 7th birthday on LT - almost an eternity in internet years. In the good old days, we had to torture the book data via either Amazon or Library of Congress (which is extremely weak in recognizing paperback ISBN) - so I am sitting on a mountain of bad Amazon data.
>86 I think you are too harsh on the Bavarians. Bavaria is a saner Germanic version of Texas. The Germans did vote in one (Austro-)Bavarian though. Growing up at the border in Braunau and Linz, Hitler had two advantages: First, he could pass as a Bavarian speaker and secondly that his father changed the spelling from the soft Hiedler to the sharp Hitler (neglecting the truly unelectable family name of Schicklgruber). It is funny how Christoph Waltz' Dr. King Schultz in Django Unchained is labeled as a German despite Waltz playing him with typical Viennese flair.
EUR 17.50 is still acceptable for a tourist all-you-can-eat entry. As I stated before, I prefer free entry (2 EUR) for access to the basic collection. Instead of spending two to three hours in the museum, I like to hop in and out for a quick greeting of my personal Vermeer. Many of the new museums vie for Duck exteriors with a prison/hospital structure inside ("warm, satt, sauber"). When I visited the then brand new Royal Ontario Gallery, its Reed Gallery produced intense glare. Their virtual tour doesn't give the impression that they corrected it. I found it deeply uncomfortable.
The planned new wing of the Zurich Kunsthaus also seems to be optimzed for easy cleaning and sluicing through the visitors as quickly as possible. The NY Guggenheim's floor inclination makes it awfully uncomfortable to stay in place. Like a downward escalator, it relentlessly drives you toward the exit. What a contrast to the humane Musée d'Orsay with its mix of public and semi-private areas. Or the Gesamtkunstwerk that are the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum or the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen. Also in Denmark is my overall favorite art museum Louisiana. Good art museums should be places you like to stay, an extended, educative living room.
HMV, Virgin, FNAC, Waterstone's and B&N have been dreadful places for a long, long time. Instead of curating, they have been driven to warehousing and hyping the banal and predictable. Well managed and staffed by independent, knowledgeable people they could well survive (some certainly will as a combination of specialty goods and POD terminals) but that would require a complete management philosophy overhaul. Currently, bookstores are overstocked with non-sellers and understocked with good books. A bookstore worth its salt would show a copy of Twilight or the upcoming Inferno and say: Don't buy this crap. Those books are much better. Such taste leadership would create loyalty. Unfortunately, dinosaurs don't learn new tricks!
Not that I begrudge anybody 2 Euros, but how is paying 2 Euros free entry?
I tried to cover the unsupervised free entry/suggested donation boxes of 2 EUR/GBP in one go. Given the public good, fixed cost nature of museum and, blockbuster exhibitions excepted, the non-rivalrous consumption, museums should be priced as cheaply as possible. Still, their 19th century bourgeois nature sets them on the endangered species list. In Austria, in smaller art museums, the government already pays up to 50 EUR supplement per visitor (while it turns out that even many of those tiny visitor numbers were mostly fake or double-counted). If one looks at museum audiences, they are already wildly regressive and exclusionary - especially visible in largely black US cities where museums become islands of mostly white and Asian visitors.
The Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien has raised its entrance fee from 10 EUR to 12 EUR to 14 EUR in only a couple of years and hopes to super-size this with a surcharge for the reopening Kunstkammer. The price is ok for the tourist market. Problematic is the low attendance of the locals (which are offered a very attractive annual membership card that offers free entry to around six museums for 2.5 times the basic entry fee.
>86 The case of Serbian drug dealer/hitman finally made the news here too. That Jörg Haider's Carinthian Hypobank was involved in another shady deal as a Balkan version of HSBC surprises no one. The Bavarian Landesbank was foolish enough to buy the carcass of the Hypobank, naively believing the auditor/due diligence reports and the assurances of the local government. They are now suing them for a rotten deal. The German Landesbanken have developed a truly bad reputation as the patsies of capitalism.
While the European police force cooperation seems to work very well on the small screen (cf. Bron and various other crime procedurals), it fails in combating organized crime, criminal tourists and white-collar crime.
Bavaria is a saner Germanic version of Texas
If that is the case, then what is Felix Austria? A saner version of Nuevo León?
Just like you I prefer to spend relatively short visits to museums and I am not very fond of blockbusters. Just like elsewhere in Europe museums are mainly government funded and the government requires ever larger numbers of visitors. Unfortunately, museums here in Amsterdam are very popular, due to the many foreign tourists and domestic daytrippers. My last museum visit was to the Photography Museum here for a Diana Arbus exhibition. That was packed. I regularly had to wait to see the next photo. It may not have helped that I went on the last weekend day of the exhibition, but still. Luckily tourists rarely dare to venture into the Dutch countryside. Haarlem's Frans Hals Museum is only 20 km away and very quiet, despite some excellent 17th century genre paintings. Your favourite would probably be the Kröller-Müller Museum in a national park in the centre of the country. The German wife of the Dutch industrialist Anton Kröller (who became even richer trading in the First World War) used her husband's money to create one of the largest collections of Van Gogh paintings. Overall, I feel less of a need to visit art museums. The quality of (digital) images now is much better than in earlier decades. In some cases the only thing I notice of a famous painting is its size: I am already very familiar with the image, I feel (BarkingMatt may start scolding me now). In Berlin I was mostly impressed by the map of the division of eastern Europe signed by Stalin and von Ribbentrop. And regarding the visitor contribution to museums: no European paid the suggested amount in New York's Metropolitan Museum in my queue.
I have not yet finished two books this year, terrible. But the amount of economic reports I receive take a lot of my time also. But I have to start reading books again!
BarkingMatt may start scolding me now
:-) To each his / her own. And I have to admit that with current image technology you will usually be able to get an adequate general impression of two dimensional art (sculpture is another matter of course). I use reproductions from books and internet myself too.
But it is a bit like watching a movie on television or listening to a concerto on your stereo. If you have a taste for it and are able / willing to spend the time: there's no substitute for the real experience.
>93 I must admit to know nothing about Mexico, so apart from its logical inevitability, I didn't even know that Nuevo León existed. If you selected it because it lies south of Texas, the comparison breaks down as Texas still defines itself by its Gringo-ness, whereas Austria and Germany are different expressions of German culture - "separated by a common language".
If I had to select a US state comparable to Austria, my choice would be Pennsylvania: A state with a rich history whose best times are past, a state split between urban and rural areas, a state with both a strong center (Philly) and independent-minded former industrial secondary cities (Pittsburgh, Scranton). Pennsylvania, by the way, is the focus of Netflix's remake of the brilliant UK House of Cards that suffers from the impossibility to translocate power struggles in a parliamentary into a presidential system. It also makes no sense that a guy from South Carolina could play kingmaker in an election for the PA governorship. Kevin Spacey still emits more of the American Beauty man in mid-life crisis than the Mephistopheles of Ian Richardson.
Museums are, by their nature, bourgeois institutions, so enjoyment may take place only in limited and measured ways. There must never be enough places to rest, while away the time and chat. Disney does a much better job at managing the visitor experience. The main reason why you say that seeing the painting in situ and on screen is not much different is because many museums display their works poorly ("one damn painting after the other").
From an aesthetic point of view, things have been improving. Modern art excepted where white and concrete wastelands are still de rigueur, the relative cheapness of repainting rooms has allowed to present works of art in a more pleasing/matching environment. What is still poorly done is the spatial arrangement of the works, the interplay between them. Which brings me to the second failure, the refrain from taking a position or didactic exposition.
While most works of art contain a multitude of meanings, I would like museums to select and present a few. Some years ago, the KHM showed the gadgets included in its Vermeer De Schilderkunst and illustrated the techniques how the painting is made. Now, the wonderful painting hangs neglected in one of the museum's corners without all those wonderful props. It would improve visitor impression to chuck some of the old baroque paintings nearby and make room for a bit of visitor education.
The Kröller-Müller Museum looks enticing indeed - and is not far from the Arnhem landing zones. Compared to Denmark's Louisiana Museum, it has still some work to do. This connection reminds me of airport architecture, with neither the works nor nature connecting with one another as masterful as done in the Louisiana Museum where the art stands among nature (not locked up in little glass boxes). See also the difference between the rich earthy colors of the one and the blandness of the other. Speaking about blandness, Philips finally pulled the plug of its ailing audio and video business. It could have been Europe's answer to Apple.
Reading-wise, I am catching up with the campaign of 1813, as I intend to visit Leipzig in October. The campaign of 1813 is severely tainted by German nationalistic writing whose actual patriotic fervor was much weaker than those historians claim. Just like many Englishmen preferred to stay in bed rather than fight at Agincourt, the people did not flock to arms as desired. While the revived Prussian army did its job, it was again Russian blood that defeated the tyrant. In typical coalition warfare, all allies tried to push the other army into the line of fire which usually ended up with the Russians absorbing most casualties. Bernadotte and the Swedes (who were just defeated by the Russians in the Finnish War) spared their troops in order to force Denmark to hand over Norway to Sweden.
A truly stellar political read is Chavs which doesn't actually deal very much with the British underclass but describes how the Tories systematically crush the institutions of civil society while Labour (like the US Democrats) has abandoned the bottom 50 percent who increasingly do no longer vote (in Sweden called the "sofa option"). While Old Labour held truly demented positions and mainly fought for dinosaur life-support, the destruction of the left means that the political landscape is broken. Owen Jones unfortunately has no magic solution in restoring representative democracy.
The Big Truck that went by is a great but depressing account of the Haiti earthquake of 2010 and the failed efforts to get this failed state on its feet. Poor Haiti is regularly punished by nature and the US. The author savagley rips into big-talking and under-delivering Bill Clinton. His personal charm makes people forget how damaging his actions and inactions have been (Glass-Steagall).
I got the point of both of you. I also prefer listening to concertos in the Concertgebouw, but it is a rather expensive hobby. For the price of one ticket you can probably the complete works of Beethoven on CD. But I agree, some art definitely has to be perused "live". Some painters use thick layers of paint that create a three-dimensional effect or a "deep-colour" effect like Mark Rothko. Other painters make such large canvasses that the effect cannot be reproduced on a small computer screen (think Amsterdam's much-beloved Barnett Newman painting). But there is quite a lot of art available for free on the internet, sometimes at surprising quality. And that is a good thing in a country where museums are getting more expensive while purchasing power has fallen 5% in the last few years. I do not know if museums are really bourgeois institutions, given their popularity here. As a wage slave I can only visit museums on the weekend when they can be awfully busy . There are lots of children and old folks around. Worst is the Tropenmuseum, Amsterdam's anthropological museum that parents seem to love if they have particularly unruly children (as all Dutch children luckily are): "Look |enter baby name fashionable 6 years ago|, here are some buttons to push!". You sometimes also ask yourself if they should not charge extra high prices for pensioners on the weekend.
Philips has ceased to produce consumer electronics some time ago and is now re-inventing itself as a company for medical electronics. Just like the great electronics companies from Japan it can no longer compete with the more versatile Koreans and Chinese. Philips has even skipped the word Electronics in its name. Interestingly, there was recently a TV documentary about the invention of the compact disc (in Dutch only). Philips and Sony had great problems interesting both consumers and record companies in their new product. Philips had to use its record company and its star conductor Herbert Karajan to popularise the CD player. The successful introduction of the compact disc is a product of the diversification that modern (finance-driven) management theory despises. The programme ends with the remark that the compact disc blew the power of American market players away. Later, Sony would benefit greatly from another Philips invention, the cassette player when it invented the Walkman. But now, digital distribution is mostly taken over by American companies again. Apple certainly benefited greatly from its Apple Store, although Spotify is Swedish in origin and headquartered in London. On the train to Eindhoven sometime ago I eavesdropped on a discussion about TV on demand. The marketeers on the train thought that America would win that race, simply because the European television market is too fragmented. America has greater scale and that makes it easier to introduce the technology and the networks. I still think Spotify or Twitter could diversify. Twitter would be a great medium to replace newspapers. You simply by a voucher for, say, 30 articles per day from the newspapers of your choice.
I admire how thoroughly you prepare yourself for your trips: reading books in February for a trip nine months later! I would not even know a holiday destination that far in advance. Still I recently finished the averagely interesting China's Urban Billion for my trip to China next month. I intend to visit Chongqing and Chengdu, two inland cities that have now started to grow. Particularly Chongqing, once the capital of the Republic of China, still has its Dickensian outcorners that seem interesting to visit. China's Urban Billion has quite an economic viewpoint, as it all starts with the very low value added by China's farmers with their minuscule plots of land. It is a nice contrast to Factory Girls that you have also read. Around the same time I learned that China is the only country with 83 billionaires in its parliament. That seems very much like Amsterdam in the 18th century.
For the rest I have mainly read economic news. One opinion you may like is this one from the Financial Times:
Since the turn of the century, however, globalization has been the main culprit of wage stagnation in the western world. The unlimited supply of labour in China (and India, for that matter) has put downward pressure on wages in the US because of international trade and the ever-looming threat of off shoring. In America, profits as a share of GDP have almost tripled since 1980. China’s state-owned enterprises generate about half of total corporate profits. Due to weak corporate governance and underdeveloped financial markets, few profits get distributed to shareholders. Corporate savings have been the main driver of China’s high national savings rate in the past two decades. China’s savings surplus (also known as foreign exchange reserves) is mainly invested in fixed income assets, in particular US Treasuries and agency bonds. Something very similar has happened with US multinationals such as Apple and Microsoft. With its cash hoard of $137bn, Apple does not materially differ from a Chinese state-owned enterprise. Corporate cash as a share of assets has climbed steadily since the early 1980s, much the same way corporate profits increased as a share of GDP. A rationale for the cash hoarding may be that corporations prefer a predictable dividend policy, and retain any profit in excess of what is needed for the usual dividend payouts. The fact that only publicly held companies have been hoarding cash, as opposed to privately held companies, lends support to this view.
Alternatively, the government may target corporate profits or corporate cash piles. An increase in corporate income tax to skim off the rents that businesses extract due to the unlimited supply of labour is quite appropriate. The government can use the tax revenues to redistribute income in favour of workers or spend the revenues on education, bolstering human capital.
Otherwise, I have mixed sentiments that your favourite FT-columnist Gillian Tett now considers Holland one of the big powers in Europe:
What is also striking is that the short-term alarm among big investors has been replaced by something else: a longer-term sense of deep unease about the fundamental growth story, not just in the periphery of Europe, but in the core eurozone too. The focus today is not just on the “PIGS”; there is also growing debate about what some traders call the FISH – or the big nations of France, Italy, Spain and Holland.
That said, the comparison of Austria to a province of Mexico is probably not the most fitting. Louisiana would be more fitting if it presents Vermeer's master piece in a neglected corner (there is a great BBC-documentary about the painting). In other way, Pennsylvania is even more appropriate.
Quite a few museums in Vienna offer weekday night openings which perfectly fit your profile: No kids, no seniors, not many visitors. The only downside is that artificial light is a poor substitute to nature. My pet peeves in museums are actually groups or more particularly the basic ignorance of most people about the rules of traffic flow.
The basic problem of museum ticket prices is price discrimination: How do you separate tourists (willing to spend more) from the stingy locals? The new Qin terracotta army exhibition currently in Berne at 28 CHF (20 EUR) is quite attractively priced for tourists who will visit also the Einstein exhibition as well as the regular exhibition for the same price. 28 CHF for a look at nine (exquisitely displayed) warriors (and a horse) is quite steep (personally, I can switch to look at my two one-meter replicas in my living room). Or I can visit Linz where a fake terracotta army of 150 is currently on tour (for a reasonable 12 EUR). They came to Vienna some years back. Impressive numbers are part of the army's appeal, so they are, besides a visit in situ, not perfect substitutes.
Chongqing has little appeal for me, furnace et al. Chengdu, however, with Liu Bei's grave and other historic sites would be a wonderful trip. While Winchester's book The Man Who Loved China about Joseph Needham isn't his best, his account of Needham collecting old books in Sichuan during WWII is very well done.
My reading about China, besides my read along of Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio, has been two books I haven't finished yet. Gebrauchsanweisung für China, written by a Süddeutsche Zeitung correspondent, is an amusing collection of anecdotes and observations. About the difference in noise levels, he refers to a Chinese acquaintance who complained that one of Berlin's noisiest district is too quiet for her taste ... The author is part of the "Chinese are Asia's Italians" school.
The other book is Red Capitalism which should properly by titled red finance and doesn't hold a deep message. Basically it says Chinese banks are houses of cards, made possible by numerous shell companies, ultimately either owned or guaranteed by the government (but ruled by cliques).
FISH makes no sense but is good for a chuckle. A columnist whose opinions are not fully thought through? Who could have guessed? The New York Times and The Washington Post just point out (for the tiny part of their readers who care about accuracy) that they do not fact-check their opinion pages. The Financial Times, which stands miles above its US competitors, is the sister company of The Economist which Paul Krugman reminded us a few days ago railed against those unnecessary socialist luxuries of sewers a century ago.
Another disappointment was Paul Kennedy's Engineers of victory : the problem solvers who turned the tide in the Second World War. I liked his Rise and Fall which I read ages ago and was truly shocked with the stinker he produced. It is really sad how much he messed up a great topic. Sadder still is that reviews in major medias failed to give a competent assessment of the book. Especially sad is that The Economist praised the book only two weeks ago when many Amazon reviewers had already highlighted much of the book's errors. A fair assessment would have interfered with their snuggling up to their US readership.
Regarding Holland, Geert Mak, whose book I like reading very much, has a new short history of the Netherlands out in German. I wonder whether it will be too Amsterdam/Holland-centric (and thus too close to his other books).
I think you would want me on the night shift during your museum visits. I like to roam around and just watch what strikes my fancy. I rarely use the audiophone systems on offer, particularly not in art museums. I may break your rules of traffic flow. Groups are fun in big museums like the Louvre, when they walk in rows to the Mona Lisa. Watching the crowd in front of that painting is certainly more interesting than the painting itself. Thomas Struth made serious photos of such scenes, and Martin Parr funny ones. Or at least Parr photographed lots of tourist scenes, including churches. He would not have seen many funny scenes last Friday in Haarlem's Frans Hals Museum, which was busy, despite that Good Friday is a working day for most Dutchmen. Again, Holland's richest age segment (senior citizens) were around in big numbers. It was interesting to see how in the 16th and 17th century, the principles of modern Japanese photography are, bure, bokeh were already highly esteemed. Strangely, the Japanese seem to prefer Vermeer to Hals and Rembrandt.
20 euro is expensive for museum visits IMHO, even when I am on holiday. In my case museum visits always have to compete with simply flâner through a city. I love to roam around aimlessly, and not just through the city centres. I try to visit every part of Amsterdam at least once a year and love to see how it changes. Also, it is interesting to know how the ideas of ordering a city have materialised through time. It is one of the great pleasures of Old Europe that we can do this for long stretches of time, longer than most other parts of the world. I find it just as nices as hiking through the dunes or Holland's mini-sized (and crowded) forests. "Go walkabout" is not an easily entertained concept in this part of the world.
Chinese cities are all the same. Essentially, they follow the checkerboard pattern with broad streets also found in the Spanish cities of Latin America. Then Asian cities tend to see old temples, mosques and churches as the only monuments worth keeping, so they maintain few old buildings. Particularly in Southeast Asia, the retail commerce that keeps European city centres lively has moved to big shopping malls where you do not get a suntan. This has left the old centres largely in decay. If you get out of the railway station in China, the square in front of it tells you more about the size of the city than about any other aspect of the place where you have arrived. And everywhere it looks drab. No place looks more drab than Chongqing, however. And given that the town is hilly, the checkerboard pattern isn't as rigorously applied as elsewhere.
I have given up on reading books from correspondents about China. In Holland newspapers prefer their correspondents to keep a "fresh look" at the countries they work in. Consequently, correspondents are moved every four or five years, more or less when they start to get a profound understanding of the place they report about. And they keep on repeating the same clichés as everybody else. It means you end up reading more (semi-)scientific books, but I love footnotes anyway. About China I think I know enough to stay away from Gebrauchsanweisungen. I have read some however, and I found Inside the Red Mansion: On the Trail of China's Most Wanted Man quite entertaining. And The Party: The Secret World of China's Communist Rulers was one of the best books I read last year. The Chinese are group animals, but I would not consider them particularly noisy. They are certainly not as noisy as Italians. Overall, I think Southeast Asians express their emotions more easily and tend to be noisier than the Chinese.
My reading has been really limited to time spent on train trips. I am just about to finish The Curves of Time, the only mildly interesting autobiography of the Sonntagskind Oscar Niemeyer. On my trip to China I do intend to read Triumph of the City, bringing your damning review. As for Geert Mak, I have no idea about his German book. He seems to be held in higher esteem in Germany than in Holland. His latest book about America did not do much here. I think his history of Amsterdam is not particularly good. He wrote an interesting book about the changes the European countryside is going through (Wie Gott verschwand aus Jorwerd). Mak is not necessarily Amsterdam-centric. He is a bit politically correct, but mostly he reminds me of a Dutch-Reformed minister, his father's calling. Anyway, Holland isn't big enough to be of much interest to the rest of the world. For its own citizens it has enough history to match much of the rest of the world, but the same can be said about many of the other countries in Europe.
As a tip for the Easter holiday, I'd rather recommend Bach: A Passionate Life, a BBC documentary about Johann Sebastian Bach with John Eliot Gardiner.
This month marks the 75th anniversary of the Anschluss, the rather shameful annexation of Austria to the Third Reich in 1938. The exhibition in the Austrian National Library's Prunksaal Nacht über Österreich (Night in Austria) skirts around the taboos. The period of Austro-Fascism from 1934 to 1938 is barely presented (because the Austro-Fascists were "good" conservatives and Catholics). The second taboo is the giant robbery (and redistribution) of Jewish wealth. 1938/39 was a year of humiliation and extortion, not yet a holocaust. Perversely, the unspeakable big evil is giving shelter to the smaller economic crimes - which are only now starting to be (re-)examined such as the brown history of the Wiener Philharmoniker.
Flâner is nice but can be quite revealing and even shocking if you wander off the touristic set in Eastern European cities. Close to the city center, the economic urban waste lands is a stark reminder of inequality. This areas, however, often preserve, through neglect, architectural gems of the past. By the way, I really like the work of 2013 Pritzker Prize winner Toyo Ito whom I didn't know about and hope that Taschen fulfills its duty soon of producing a booklet about him.
I am reading the biography The Woman who could not forget of Iris Chang, author of The Rape of Nanking, written by her Tiger Mom. Her suicide is such a tragedy, her death partly caused by the barbarity of US health "care", inappropriate medication and a family environment unable to cope with depression and love/recognition is based on performance. A great career cut short.
Page by page, I am also working my way through The better angels of our nature whose good message is marred by the author's "get off my lawn" attitude (bah, those new things like video games!) and Harvard myopia. I didn't know that Steven Pinker is a closed minded libertarian/conservative who only listens to people to the right of David Brooks, among them his fellow Harvard courtier of the 1%, Ed Glaeser. Given the mess of the Reagan/Bush revolution, Pinker's favorite approach is to blame Marxists. Marxists in the 21st century!?! Pinker even goes so far in discovering that Hitler was a secret Marxist ... very sad, The better angels of our nature contains excellent content that is wrapped in a toxic layer of ideology. The New York Review of Books has a good survey of the latest new Cold War thinking on China.
Thanks for the tip about the Bach documentary which is well done except for the pop psychology and the mistaken ideas of privacy in earlier centuries. They should have shown the colorful ceiling of the Thomaskirche in Leipzig which fits Bach's music well. Unfortunately, I am very unmusical, so I have a hard time understanding the complexities of Bach's work. Beethoven and Tchaikovsky are much better suited to my undiscerning ears.
I am also firmly in the Vermeer camp. I don't like the vulgarity of Hals (or Rembrandt), their exuberant, oozing flesh. I am not fond of the baroque.
You prefer Vermeer to Hals and Rembrandt because of their vulgarity? It seems that puts you firmly into the camp of Club Med bella figura loving Steuersünder, who prefer their art commissioned by the world's oldest multinational! This profound difference between north and south was very clear to me when I visited the Prado again half a decade ago. Everything from Italy looked better than life, whereas the art from northern Europe (both the Low Countries and Germany) seemed to prefer more realistic and consequently banal depictions.
I would not consider Hals a painter of "exuberant, oozing flesh". His most famous paintings here are of groups of civic guards and depict the local elite of Haarlem (these works have probably never left the city). These works have a great rhythm and fabulous colours, while the burghers depicted look pretty much like the faces you see in the shopping street behind the museum. The man portrayed paid for their depictions, which are realistic, but not oozing. The flesh shown is that of the chicken and oysters they are eating. Portraying drunks and prostitutes was only a secondary business for Hals. Rembrandt never depicted drunks as far as I am aware, and Maria Magdalena the only prostitute. The current exhibition in Haarlem showed some "oozing flesh", albeit not exuberant, in the Portrait of Margaretha de Geer from the London National Gallery, which is absolutely splendid with its layers of paint (and which should be seen in person rather than on the internet, I agree). There was no need for Francis Bacon. As a child I loved Rembrandt. Whatever I know of the bible comes from his paintings. I have always loved the way he used clair-obscur to create a dramatic effect and you can see that back in some of the better photographs I took. But Vermeer is great too (though I am less fond of his milkmaid for a reason I cannot explain).
Do you really have to be very musical to understand the complexities of Bach? Large parts of his passions seem quite simple, but I am as untrained in music theory as anybody. Bach's music used to be sung along by the people in church, a practice sometimes still occurring here in Amsterdam where ministers have discovered that music about god is far more popular than His word. I'd still want to find a description of the Bach connoisseur Ton Koopman's theory that we cannot understand Bach the way he meant it anymore, because of our exposure to modern pop music. What surprised me in the Bach documentary was that all the experts were Brits. Given the status that Bach (increasingly) has on the continent, you would expect some non-native speakers had been included. And earlier centuries may have had other expectations of privacy, just like modern day non-Western societies. That does not mean that the tensions on the individual are any different.
I am interested in your review of The better angels of our nature. I have read an interview with Pinker about the book, and I find his conclusion that the world has become more peaceful over time instinctively correct. It may be hard to belief for those who lived through the terrible conflicts and despotisms of the 20th century or in today's Syria, but colonialism greatly reduced the number of conflicts in the Third World. The improvement should be found in that area in particular (despite Mao, Pol Pot and a handful of other crazies). Europe used to be in one endless conflict leading with many people just being able to subsist. And as I learned from the interesting Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors, the Koi in Namibia (who live a life most closely to primitive man) have 3 times the murder rate of the US.
Regarding the Anschluß, Austria is not the only place whose past is not immaculately clean. The newspaper here reported how Jews returning from the camps were billed by the city of Amsterdam for the leasehold during the war years.
Even in the towns of eastern Europe flâner is interesting (but I like Rembrandt and Hals...). It is confrontational, but have you seen the suburbs of London and Paris? Ito has a building here in Amsterdam, but it looks rather standard. One of my Twitterati buddies once gave a link between starchitects and real estate bubbles, but unfortunately that was behind a paywall. Japan has spent massively on museums by architects like Ando and now has a horrible level of national debt. Dogs and Demons mentions museums specifically as a waste of money. Valencia is another prime example, of course. In recent articles the "trickle down" effect of investments in creative cities as promoted by Richard Florida is just as bogus as that of the neo-cons, however far more popular with lefties.
The old ad quip "if you have nothing to say, sing it" certainly applies strongly to religion. Church service has always had a edutainment component using all multimedia then available. For many centuries, the Sunday church service was the moment to be educated, entertained as well as to show off (medieval Switzerland looks like a perpetual fight against people wearing inappropriate, i.e. too sumptuous, dress to church).
Re Bach, I love when his themes are re-purposed such as Mauranne's Sur une prélude de Bach. There were quite a number of Germans in the Bach docu, however, their accents were not that strong. Musical people usually are more gifted in terms of correct enunciation.
Re Frans Hals, as with Botero, I just don't like his aesthetic approach. I don't find his portraits appealing and, unlike Francis Bacon, I don't think his choice of style was deliberate to shock. A few years back, they exhibited some of Francis Bacon's popes alongside those of Titian which revealed both the visual language of power. I am not particularly fond of Bacon's other works.
I love Rembrandt's masterful use of light and shadow. I find his choice of motive often quite banal. I think Vermeer is unsurpassed in making a picture tell a story. What I also like is Vermeer's use of restricted color palettes (a technique also heavily used by Corot and van Gogh).
Museums and banks must be of appropriate size for their environment to be sustainable. The importance of location for a museum can not be overstated. Here in Vienna, the Liechtenstein Museum closed its doors again (well, it is still open as an expensive events location), because it was beyond the classic tourist routes (and failed to position its must see works in the public mind). Currently there is crazy talk in Vienna about dislocating its Historical Museum housed in an ugly building at the great central location of Karlsplatz to the new central station located way off the city center. Visitor numbers are certain to plummet if the decision makers (who are unfortunately often driven not with the museum's best interests in mind) proceed with this idea.
I think Richard Florida has the correlation backwards. It is some source of economic success that pays for the creative endeavors (which, after all, are consumption not production). Art is not capital intensive, so politicians can show off without having to invest much. The results of Liverpool's art and design initiative to make up for its lost industries didn't look splendid at all.
Pinker, like so many of Harvard's USA! USA! cheerleaders. is actually a Canadian import. The only explanation how he could have missed the national atonement after the Vietnam War. He seems to have held on to the steady progress of humanity approach of history (which WWI or II had shattered for most when das Land der Dichter und Denker reverted into utmost barbarity). Pinker must have been extremely shocked when his beloved USA started to disappear and torture humans (actions cheered on by fellow Harvard professors such as Alan Dershowitz). Thus the soothing message of Better Angels - it gets better in the long run.
This is based on bad statistics as the big bad events are perfect "black swans". If the madman in North Korea decides tomorrow to nuke Seoul, Pinker's downward trend will experience an extreme correction. Strangely, Pinker, like most US Conservatives, seems obsessed with evil Iran.
I love that he brings in Norbert Elias whose books are just splendid reads. Pinker, however, fails to distinguish between the civilizing forces of the court and the state. It is difficult to distinguish the ongoing democratization of civilized behavior (meaning that more and more strata of a society adopt certain behaviors), which elevates the average level of civility, and the overall level of socially controlled behavior in public. The growing level of individualism has decreased the pressure of the forces of civilization. In my view, Elias' trend is experiencing a backlash with a rise in egoistic behavior (obesity; fast food; texting and talking in theaters). Regarding littering, Vienna is again at the unfortunate border of civilization, having to train many Eastern Europeans and Turks not to litter.
Regarding violence, I think Pinker is underestimating the influence of the state. It was government not civil society that abolished slavery and protected civil rights. Only the protection by the state will help anti-discrimination to prevail in unequal power relationships. Violence happens where the control of the state is absent. The abuses in the Catholic Church would have been stopped much earlier if the state had had full jurisdiction of the cases. Unfortunately, these were often delegated as a matter of canonical law to be dealt with within the church.
Up to now, Pinker does not address the highly unequal distribution of violence. Over the centuries, the best advice certainly is not to be Chinese or Polish-Ukrainian-Russian. A large overall decline in violence is of little help in the hot spots of the ghettos of Detroit, in Afghanistan or in Somalia. Life in Sweden and Switzerland has been very peaceful for quite some time.
Finally, Pinker does not mention other forms of violence. Already in medieval times, rulers discovered that the reification and monetarization of violence is much easier to uphold. Sharecropping beats whipping slaves. I hope Pinker will mention the on-going privatization of the monopoly of violence with private security guards and gated communities. Popper's Open Society is unfortunately under heavy attack.
The church edutainment? Not the catholic church, I presume. Until half a century ago mass was celebrated in Latin to an audience that mostly did not comprehend that language. The educational element of the catholic church was very much restricted to its architecture, paintings and music. Of these only music allowed for a wider choice, as the others are static at parish level. I would not rate the average layman's education from the church too high. It is somewhat different for certain elements of the clergy or in the protestant churches. Still, the christian faith leaves behind a great heritage of arts, far greater than Islam, Buddhism or Hinduism in its diversity. And that while I rate Islam highly as an inspiration for great architecture and the Far Eastern faiths as interesting philosophies.
I think I understand your preference for Vermeer. However, his paintings are widely different in approach. Most of them are indoors, concentrating on one or two women. Compared to Rembrandt they are still lifes. Rembrandt painted life in action, although the themes were often biblical, rather than the street scenes of the later Impressionists. As for his portraits he never went for the serenity of Vermeer, but how many people are that serene? I wonder what you think of Rubens. I enjoy his great canvases with lots of action. The mise-en-scène is always excellent, no small feat in a time when designing that was a cumbersome process.
I left the Frans Hals exhibition with one puzzling question I had never asked myself before. If BarkingMatt is still following this discussion, he may give the answer. Paintings were cheap in Holland, due to massive supply of works. They often cost about one month's middle class salary. Middle class houses used to have multiple works, which explains partly the banal character of Dutch art. But why did only the elite have their portraits made? Nowadays everybody shoots family snapshots with his camera. I cannot believe that the need to have pictures of loved ones is a new one. Of course such pictures would have been more expensive than an average work. Also, only a segment of painters specialised in portraits, so the price increase would be a bit higher. I think the chance that such paintings would not have survived rather dim. The only other reason I could think of was that paintings were also seen as a store of value, much like gold jewelry in the Far East up to today.
The city of Amsterdam moves museums and concert halls to peripheral areas as landmarks for city development. Hence, moving a museum to another area does not seem strange per sé to me. Supposedly, it also fits nicely to Richard Florida's ideas. I have not read Florida's books, I just see him mentioned regularly in the newspaper and in Twitter links. "Implementing" Florida's ideas takes more than commissioning a few works of art. You need (new) museums in nice buildings as well as concert halls, plus lots of bicycle lanes. Together, this takes a rather more material slice from tax payers' money. But the result should be that all this and Starbucks create an environment where creative individuals can meet and thrive. "Creative people" by the way are not just painters, film makers and professors, but also lawyers and, oh irony, bankers. If these people thrive, they create jobs in support industries, like baristas. If you want to I can try to locate the analyses of the guru's results in practice, but it seems to work mainly in towns that are already attractive to white collar workers and "creative" towns like San Francisco (that, just like Amsterdam, also attracts loads of tourists). In blue collar towns like Minneapolis or Detroit it is mostly a waste of money.
As for Pinter, I wait for your progress. But I do not think that Vienna is at the "unfortunate border of civilistation". What you describe happens everywhere in rich countries. Friends in Hong Kong heard complaints about Mainland Chinese squatting while waiting for the bus, which was bad for the value of flats. All rich countries with the notable exception of Japan and Korea have large numbers of immigrants. Singapore still manages to keep littering in control, but experiences other problems with its large influx of immigrants. Lately the MRT, its excellent underground railway system, seems to experience defects and is occasionally no longer on time.
I wouldn't write off the educational aspect of the Catholic church. Watch an artistic rendering of the seven mortal sins in Admont Abbey, Styria in Austria. Admont features one of the most spectacular libraries in the world. They were very kind in re-opening the library for me when I arrived there rather late in the day (the abbey lies rather far away from civilization).
If you want to update yourself on Richard Florida, MeFi had a critical thread about him a few days ago. As I stated, I think he has the causality backwards. If I had to trust one urban renewal guru, my choice would be Jan Gehl who remade the city center of Copenhagen.
Paintings need walls. Average or poor people did not have rooms of their own then. The kitchen staff slept in the kitchen, the maid either in the master bedroom (cf. Pepys) on the floor or in the attic where the absence of lighting made pictures objects of a lesser desire. Lucy Worsley's If Walls could talk is both a good book and a good documentary. She is a fun presenter with a strange speech impediment (or accent?). The only defect of the book is that it lacks footnotes which is very uncivil and it is difficult to check out some of the examples listed.
It is quite funny that modern TV series and films avoid the maid in the room aspect of the love-making scenes (which are after all filmed in the presence of a full film crew).
Instead of paintings, people owned prints (which could be folded and stowed away more easily, see also the prestigious map prints in Vermeer's paintings). The main trade of the printing business was turning out pamphlets and tracts not books. Benjamin Franklin became filthy rich selling ephemera.
Rubenesque forms are not the body type I find attractive. I like his choice of motive and his supreme skill at composition. In Vienna's Kunsthistorisches Museum, however, the Rubens paintings are very unfortunately hanged as the huge paintings are not given the necessary space to stand back and appreciate them properly. The massive paintings overwhelm the spectator. The rooms are not (yet?) represented in the Google Arts project.
It looks likely that Google will have to send a camera team to the Rijksmuseum to actualize its images. Displaying Vermeer next to Rembrandt, as my newspaper reports today, is a very touristic choice ...
The BBC is airing a well made documentary about The High Art of the Low Countries. The first episode about Flemish art was ok, the second one about the Dutch Golden age splendid. I wonder how the presenter will deal with the fact that much of 19th/20th century Dutch art was created in France. Van Gogh, Mondrian, Magritte and Delvaux - looks like a Dutch-Belgian quota system. Will M.C. Escher make an appearance? The ING Rembrandt Nightwatch ad was clever: Onze helden zijn terug!
Finally finished Pinker's book. The second to last chapter is a giant rant that violent crime is perpetrated by stupid people. Pinker as one of the Eloi is sick of all those Morlocks! Pinker manages to somehow never look at his peers: Intelligent people commit white-collar crimes or outsource the dirty work. As both of these acts are rarely punished in the United States, they do not exist.
Pinker's bias and carelessness severely taints the book. Just like his Harvard mate, Niall Ferguson, facts are for little people. It would cost too much to check that Borat is a journalist not an immigrant. It would also be too much effort to check that contrary to "what everyone knows", the convicts sent to Australia were mostly thieves not murderers. Many were simply guilty of being Irish. Thus Pinker's wondering that Australia has a lower murder rate than the US despite its supposedly violent origins does not hold up to fact-based analysis. Furthermore, the early convicts were demographically swamped by mass immigration during the late 19th century, so even the "criminal gene" approach doesn't work, nutty as it is. Further problems are statistical malpractice, ignorance about macro, meso and micro approaches as well as Harvard myopia that only looks to confirm its biases.
The same Harvard myopia has just been revealed to be behind the shoddy work of Reinhart and Rogoff. If economics were a science and Harvard cared about quality standards, the two would be out of work for malpractice. America's decline is in no small part caused by the intellectual rot at its key university.
I don't know whether you are still intent upon reading Edward Glaeser's book. This recent op-ed about teaching is filled with so many howlers that it makes my eyes bleed. At least with Glaeser you can be certain that his conclusion will always have negative effects for unions, the poor, women and immigrants. It is also certain that none of the measures he advocates will be applied to him or his circle, e.g. he argues for "a grade distribution to each teacher, requiring a fixed number of A’s, B’s, C’s and F’s". Now, Glaeser teaches at a certain institution known for grade inflation. How about he would test his recommendation first in his own institution? He would perhaps note that, grade inflation apart, the members of a class rarely are in a normal distribution. The op-ed ends with a plea for videotaping all classrooms. Orwell, here we come.
Usually, some kind soul uploads the episodes to YouTube or Vimeo. Watch episode 2 while it lasts. It is highly unlikely to be broadcast in the States, as documentaries not of cute or lethal creatures are of surprisingly local appeal. Even the title would not work in the US as many would not identify the Low Countries as the Netherlands and "high art" sounds snobbish. "Rembrandt and Rubens" would at least catch some US eye balls but then the content would have to be heavily adapted as the common knowledge about European history and geography assumed by the presenter is not there. The information density would also have to be rigidly reduced. American documentaries work in two minute chunks whose informations are repeated again and again.
What will find its way across the pond is the abysmal Royal paintbox which portrays the old prince as an artist of common talent. Another look at royal underwear is undertaken by Lucy Worsley in Fit to Rule (in her enunciation fit to wule. Having heard Emilia "Khaleesi" Clarke pronounce some of her "r" likewise I hope this is not as irritating a trend as the vocal fry epidemic among younger US women.).
Audiences for documentaries are already very small, so to increase their appeal they have to aim at topics with brand recognition. Thus, Simon Schama's excellent series The Power of Art features Caravaggio, Bernini, Rembrandt, David, Turner, Van Gogh, Picasso, and Rothko - and not Pieter de Hooch who makes a guest appearance in The High Art of the Low Countries. In an ideal world, the presenter would have had time to compare The Courtyard_of a House in Delft of de Hooch to Vermeer's The Little Street which are fine complements.
While the BBC4 website provides some links, it does not feature its great back catalogue documentaries such as the menitioned Power of Art or the equally stellar Private Life Of A Masterpiece series (in the wonderful world of Amazon, the latter costs 80 USD in the US or 30 GBP (50 USD) in the UK). The BBC should stream these for free world-wide to fulfill its educational mission and mind-share. It is crazy that most of these documentaries disappear into the archives and are locked away from the public.
> 105 Pinker's wondering that Australia has a lower murder rate than the US despite its supposedly violent origins does not hold up to fact-based analysis. Furthermore, the early convicts were demographically swamped by mass immigration during the late 19th century, so even the "criminal gene" approach doesn't work, nutty as it is.
He seriously says that stuff? Apart from your very good point about the kind of people the convicts were, saying anything about genetic heritage is absurdly silly. Amongst the people I know well enough to know their family tree, there isn't a single convict among hundreds and hundreds of ancestors. Just British and European folk escaping the claustrophobia of the Industrial Revolution. Not to mention the significant proportion of people who emigrated here in the 20th century. I think it'd make far more sense to draw connections between refugees fleeing WW2-era Europe and present-day Australia than from the 18th-century British penal system.
The convict heritage doesn't even play a role in modern Australian culture. Nobody talks or thinks about it. Not really because it's shameful, but because it's largely irrelevant and almost totally forgotten.
Interesting to read all your thoughts about Pinker and Ferguson. I was curious to read Pinker's book after reading a mostly positive review in Nature, but... perhaps not.
>109 Australia is only mentioned in an aside in the weakest chapter of the book, no. 9 titled "Better angels". In the now typical Harvard approach, neither these tenured professors nor their underlings deem it necessary to check the facts when those confirm their ideology. Harvard's "Veritas" has come close to the "news" in Fox News or CNN. Chapter 9 is the place where an intelligent reader notices that Pinker's construction of the book doesn't fit together. Chapter 1 to 7 use a big picture, population statistics approach. Chapter 8 frames violence as a component of evolutionary psychology.
Given the rapid changes in the level of violence and the wide differences among different societies, it should be clear to anyone that evolutionary psychology can but little explain the phenomenon. Thus the angry need to save his pet theory in chapter 9: Violence is happening because people haven't evolved enough, aren't intelligent and reasonable enough. Now, this is clearly wrong (think Nazi Germany), but it creates cognitive dissonance for Pinker as most other developed nations have fewer violent crimes than the US. Given the facts, one of the propositions less violence = more intelligent and USA = no. 1 has to go. (Actually, both are wrong.)
To his credit, Pinker doesn't follow Samuel Huntington's route (though he quotes him approvingly) nor Harvard-educated Charles Murray's even darker ideas but it ends in a rant that is not helpful. What Pinker in particular and Harvard in general fails to notice is inequality (Elizabeth Warren is a notable exception). Violence is distributed highly unequal across society and societies.
A competent government offering access and protection of the law, helping those in need and educating all to the best it can goes a long way to reduce levels of violence. In Western Europe, helping the (poor and disenfranchised) immigrants to integrate faster and more easily would help reduce the noticeably higher level of violent crime. It would also help society to direct more resources to combat and punish white-collar crimes.
Overall, Pinker is still a step above the pure ideologues such as Ferguson, Mankiw or Glaeser. The book remains an interesting read despite its ideological coloring. Facts have a liberal bias. Despite the constant right-wing barrage, US academics writing popular books and the media are not liberal (they are mostly liberal conservatives). Pinker's animus against Marxists are bizarre. Are there actually any Marxists left who are not retired or living in obscurity? There is the shock artist known as Slavoj Zizek who knows to play to commercial audiences and, I think, I remember one New York professor, Richard D. Wolff. Public discussion in the US mostly suffers from too many paid shills of the ultra rich, just the Überbau Marx would have expected.
Facts have a liberal bias.
This may be true in the United States, where the loudest voices in the political debate seem to be on the right. But in Europe, this is not necessarily true. The left can be just as out of touch with reality as the right, just think of the gauche caviar in France that do not want any reforms in a country that is stuck in an economic cul-de-sac.
Part of this is caused by the sponsorship of opinion makers. Large corporations and some conservative ideologists invest larger amounts of money in the United States. Europe is more fragmented and it is not so easy to influence opinion. You will have to do that one country at a time. However, given US leadership in intellectual debate since the Second World War (and the American love to proselytise whatever opinion they have), brings plenty of nonsense across the ocean. By influencing American public opinion you can influence European public opinion too.
Reinhart and Rogoff are a more intellectual example of this influence. Their fall from grace is painful, given the influence that their latest paper had.
America's decline is in no small part caused by the intellectual rot at its key university.
I wholeheartedly agree. However, American universities are not the only ones. Just think how many Germans have lost their title of Doktor recently, because they had copied too large a part of their thesis. Here we recently had a case of a respected sociology professor who made up most of the statistical underpinnings of his internationally well received theories. It seems universities rarely audit the research results of their staff, despite the fact that nowadays the same (dis-)economies of scale as in the corporate world apply at these institutions. They are large, anonymous, and promote the politically smart. Companies get financial audits, ISAE 3402 audits, risk audits, cumbersome ITIL- and Prince2-procedures, maturity assessments and other feel-good nonsense for incompetent senior managers (that mainly create cash flows for auditors and consultants), but universities seem to be completely free of any checks and balances. And as you may appreciate, I hold little of Edward Glaeser’s proposal to have teachers video-taped and judged by “good managers”.
And yes, I finished Triumph of the City during my trip to China. It is a curious book that certainly does not deserve to be selected for Business Book of the Year by the Financial Times (which I find an interesting newspaper with a lively opinion section that does not really discriminate between left and right, as the obituaries for Lady Thatcher showed). For a start the book is not concise but rather repetitive. You get the same information at least four times in the 200+ pages of the core text. It is also rather chatty, as if it were written for some quasi intellectual Stammtisch: his triumphant object of research is not even properly defined beyond that it should be something like New York City. A city is a place where people come together to think up and realise “ideas”, but what they are is not clarified, although investment banks came up with good ideas in the recent past. Oh, and it should have some Louboutin boutiques as well. Statistics and anecdotes are all supportive of his vague core message, without any subtlety in the argumentation. The Stammtisch by the way is certainly American. The information he gives about overseas cities does not surpass what a tourist on a one-day stopover may see. Paris is reduced to a walk down the Champs Elysees (a tourist trap with almost nothing of interest to locals, bar Fouquet’s for those who won the lottery). And what he writes about Singapore is the simplest form of propaganda of the city state’s government (which does many things right). Hong Kong is reduced to the square mile where you find the large investment banks. He mentions Rotterdam a few times, but certainly has not visited the place. Rotterdam applies his medicine: it builds highrises in its city centre to accommodate the middle class. Still, most students from the Erasmus University escape to Amsterdam upon graduation. And Amsterdam is a city with restricted zoning and expensive housing. Glaeser mentions somewhere the costs of the Bilbao Guggenheim. Now the economic effect of the regeneration of that city would have been an interesting case study, also about the ideas of Richard Florida (I agree with you that art will follow development and that government investment will have mostly little effect). But that would dig too deep. In brief: a very disappointing read, easily surpassed by the much shorter but more interesting Giving up the Gun : Japan’s reversion to the sword.
Thank you for guiding me to Jan Gehl. I read this message while in China, and I have to google him a bit better. So far I found mainly that he developed bicycle paths, which is nothing special for someone living in Amsterdam. In Amsterdam, most movements (>50%) within the city are done by bicycle. This has grown in recent years at the expense of both cars and public transport. The carrier cycle to bring children to school has become a typical yuppie symbol and is even used by members of the royal family. There is a catch, however. Most of these movements will be within the city ringroad (somewhat but not much smaller than Paris’ Boulevard Périphérique). Most, but certainly not all, immigrants live outside the ringroad in post-war neighbourhoods. They often do not enjoy this healthy lifestyle. Young immigrants and their native copycats prefer scooters that now make Amsterdam’s bike lanes sometimes a tad hazardous. So I am afraid I cannot learn much from Danish bicycle lanes, except how the Danish nanny state can spoil all the fun. Reportedly, riding with your girlfriend on the rear carrier while calling on your mobile phone and not wearing a helmet are already three reasons for a fine in Wonderful Copenhagen. No wonder I have never been there.
You are right that Dutch burghers used to own prints. Most middle-class people however also owned multiple oil-paintings. Given the limited number of family portraits of middle class people, they must have been almost like an alternative store of value, not unlike the treatment of Rolex watches by Hong Kong people. Many more Honkies own a Rolex than you see people wearing them. Honkies trust the brand, and mostly keep their watches at home in the original box with bill and guarantee as an alternative to their US-dollar-linked currency.
The Rijksmuseum attracted over 100K visitors in the first two weeks since it opened. And that is before the onslaught of long weekends of Ascension Day and Whit Monday. You may congratulate yourself with not trying to go there. It will be very crowded around those Vermeers and Rembrandts, although other areas (furniture, Asian art) will be a lot quieter. I am sure you would appreciate the Dutch history section, which used to be large and well presented in the old set-up, including, among others a painting of the Battle of Waterloo that is larger than Rembrandt’s Nightwatch.
It would indeed be wonderful if the Beeb would make its back catalogue available for free. The BBC seems to be a pretty commercial organisation, though, that sells its documentaries on DVD’s, and may not want to give up this source of income. In Holland we can see such documentaries at ungodly hours or on the weekend when decent people do other things. I mostly miss them, unless they appear on Belgian public television, which does not primarily aims at people with an attention span of 2 minutes.
Ah, I forgot this:
I wonder how the presenter will deal with the fact that much of 19th/20th century Dutch art was created in France.
You are wrong. Most Dutch art was made at home, although France and later America was important. Van Gogh and Mondriaan are simply the most internationally famous painters of the last two centuries. More or less at the basis of both of them stands the Hague School of impressionist painters and various others. Many of their works are still in private hands, but can occasionally be seen when you visit auctions. Others are mostly in Dutch and Flemish museums. Their work mostly lacks the revolutionary character of a Van Gogh. But Van Gogh himself looked up to George Hendrik Breitner. Breitner is locally famous as the painter of Amsterdam's renaissance in the late 19th century. He was also an accomplished photographer. I like this work, because it seems one of the first where you can see the effect of a wide angle lens in a painting. Mondriaan learned a few things about the use of colour from Jan Sluyters, who does not even have much of a lemma in Wikipedia, but you can google his paintings quite well.
France was important as a location until the 1950's. Post-war painters like Karel Appel still went to the City of Light. Willem de Kooning went to New York, as Mondriaan had done before the outbreak of World War Two.
Art follows economic success. Just like the success of German football teams in the Champions League seems to be remarkably correlated to the country's economic success (not unlike the the times the Dutch national team is doing well).
And last but not least, I learned from the New York Times that thou shall not judge Gérard de Villiers's books by their covers. The author writes semi non-fiction:
de Villiers’s books are ahead of the news and sometimes even ahead of events themselves.
So I stocked up on two of his books during my stopover at the airport in Paris (I love to fly home on Air France, always hoping the French will go on strike). Hopefully his books will finally get me accepted by Europe's snotty intellectual elite. Anyway, it is good to read French occasionally.
How was Chengdu? Worth a visit?
Of the two airline partners, I vastly prefer Air France to KLM, at least in the cattle class service I usually patronize. With Air France, though, you also have to pay attention to airport transfers in Paris which are to be avoided at all cost. Prices certainly have gone up. Air France used to advertise Vienna-Paris at 89 EUR. Now, their homepage presents me a best offer at 150 EUR (which is an ok price for the distance).
Please update me on your reading of Gérard de Villiers. Having also read the respective article, some months past, I picked up one of his books and started reading the first few chapters. I didn't like them. The writing, the protagonists and the plot were atrocious - but I don't like thrillers in general.
Thanks for introducing me to George Hendrik Breitner. His cityscapes are great. His social realism reminds me of Lowry and Manchester. I'll have to check out Snapshot: Painters and Photography, Bonnard to Vuillard. What I would really like to see is street views in mixed techniques (drawing, painting, photograph) of the same location as well as a impression of how it looks today.
Gehl is more than bike lanes. I think his key message is creating space were people love to linger, hang out, congregate. This means getting cars out of the city center and creating agreeable defensive space/shelter for people to sit down and chat. Christopher Alexander and especially William H. Whyte have been preaching the same for years. Whyte is great. His film The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces - The Street Corner is a must-watch for social interaction.
Unfortunately, most star architects prefer to create places for Stalinist armies to march. Vienna's new business and economics university campus in the Prater features a giant empty square which will perpetually have to wait for the Red Army to make an appearance. It is sad that known solutions to very common problems in urban planning are not applied (as they need coordination between public and private decision makers).
The Rijksmuseum painting of the Battle of Waterloo is terrible, a giant vanity piece of name dropping. Outstanding paintings about Waterloo are by Philippoteaux and Lady Butler.
Finally, the inability of Rogoff and Reinhart to say that they are sorry was pathetic to watch. Almost as bad as the "Decision Points Theater" in the Bush Mausoleum where visitors can choose to invade Iraq or be told that they have chosen the wrong option. Keynes' "If the facts change, I change my opinion." obviously does not apply to Harvard men. If only they could proceed in their march of folly without dragging the world along ...
Chengdu is very much like other Chinese cities of its size. Think broad roads meant for cars (broader often than those in L.A.) with a large pedestrian shopping zone in the centre. Around it are highrises for offices, with here and there a few older buildings (even one old Soviet Union style theatre). Towards the suburbs the highrise office blocks become towers with flats. Chengdu adds a bit of charm with its parks and with its population of students, but for the rest its just like everywhere else. The Tibetan mountains to the west I found much more special (where I saw a few images of the Dalai Lama, even in a temple with its own police station; the police, by the way, is not really held in high esteem by the population, a fact that surprises the people here). I do not know if you support Switzerland's anti-Powerpoint party, but it seems a lost cause if you find Powerpoint manuals even in Tibetan monasteries. And to come back Triumph of the City: small towns have a surprising number of high buildings with flats and very few family homes. This is not a Chinese characteristic: you do not find that in Taiwan, for instance. This must be a deliberate policy, either to improve control over the population, or to reduce an ecological footprint. Another fascinating aspect was the social difference between Chengdu and the mountains to the West. Where Chengdu seems quite modern (it even has a branche of Hooters), the manners of the little developed mountains were like eastern China more than a decade ago. One great example was a man in a lift staring at the "no smoking" sign with a burning cigarette in his mouth.
I mostly fly KLM, of course. I like their ruthless efficiency and fair prices. My flight to Chengdu with a return from Hong Kong was EUR 670, not a price you can complain about. Airlines have seen ticket prices fall and airport taxes and kerosene prices rise. I particularly like these airport taxes. Schiphol e.g. has not really become faster since they have increased their income basis. You must be used to American airports to like that place. For the rest I rarely fly as cheaply as you mention. I suppose I decide too late about my travel plans. And if I want to go to Paris or Berlin, nothing beats the bus in price and arrival and departure time.
Thank you for the link to The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces - The Street Corner. The film is not just interesting for the interaction it shows, but also as an image of the 1970's. How unruly these years look in hindsight. I wonder if people still populate Seagram Plaza like in these years. Starbucks, a place where you pay through the purchase of (watery) coffee, may have taken over the role as the prime spot for people wanting to hang around. And to combine China with Starbucks, lacking café's, I love Starbucks in China. It is the only place where you can sit down just to enjoy a drink. I happily take the coffee for granted. Regarding New York, I also wonder how zoning laws were changed since the 1970's. Mr. Whyte advocates shops at ground floor level (called "the plinth" in translated Dutch). Here in Amsterdam we now see that shops in peripheral areas have often closed down. This is partly to blame on the economic crisis, but partly on the large number of shops found in Dutch towns, and not in the least to the rise of internet shopping. I am going to watch Gehl's Cities for People later tonight.
Your remark about Vienna's university campus does not surprise me in the least. Here colleges and universities have grown in scale dramatically. According to their management this should lead to economies of scale. I doubt that much more than the rise in salaries of said managers. All these schools have diversified into real estate development. You sometimes wonder what they think is the most "mission critical" in their Powerpoint presentations. Here in Amsterdam, the business centre that should compete for multinationals (and more often compared to Paris' La Défense than to London's Docklands for some reason) is also centred around a large and windy square. I am sure that Dutch facilities for tax planning are more appealing to multinationals. And such windy, "Stalinist" squares have nothing to do with modernism in itself. Modernism was very much aware that you needed to create a social structure in the suburbs they proposed.
I think you are a bit too harsh on Jan Willem Pieneman, the painter of the Rijksmuseum's Battle of Waterloo. Pieneman was not interested in depicting battle scenes. He created the imagery (or the spin) needed for the new born Kingdom of the Netherlands, where support for the monarch was by no means universal. Paintings about the role of the Prince of Orange were part of that spin. Pieneman did in oil on canvas what Van der Straeten and Van Geel did in iron. Incidentally, George Hendrik Breitner was a fine painter of cavalry charges.
You may have seen the latest response by Kenneth Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart:
To be clear, no one should be arguing to stabilise debt, much less bring it down, until growth is more solidly entrenched.
There are more remarkable statements, not in the least
No one fully understands why rates have fallen so far so fast.
Haven't they heard about Quantitative Easing in their Harvard Ivory Tower? Equally little inspiring for us as northern tax payers is
For Europe, in particular, any reasonable endgame will require a large transfer from Germany to the periphery.
I have yet to start with these Gérard de Villiers books, but once done I shall tell here if I like them.
I just finished watching Gehl's Cities for People. Actually, I had never heard of the man before you mentioned him. That is a kind of odd, because the ideas he advocates (make a city more inhabitable by allowing people to walk and cycle) have been implemented in Amsterdam since the 1970's. I do not know if Mr. Gehl played any role in Amsterdam's (or other Dutch cities') cyclling strategies. Mr. Gehl does not have a lemma in the Dutch edition of Wikipedia and googling on Amsterdam and Jan Gehl did not bring much. In the film Amsterdam is hardly mentioned. The film is really a commercial for Copenhagen more than anything else. Mr. Gehl is a good salesman, but his ideas are rather limited. It is mostly about cycling and a little bit about the benefits of public transport. Making space for tramways is useful. If you see the number of streets that have become ugly because of modern tram lanes in Amsterdam you'd talk differently.
In the same manner I read and reviewed Jos Gadet's Terug naar de stad, a book not translated into foreign languages. Based upon his experience in Amsterdam's city planning department, Mr. Gadet links Gehl's theories (without recalling mentioning his name) with Jane Jacobs and Richard Florida. This makes Mr. Gadet's book more interesting than this film. Mr. Gadet talks about the economic benefits of Mr. Gehls "livable city", particularly for a city with an economy based upon services. He also talks about the diseconomies of scale of post-1960 construction. Older buildings can be transformed from houses into shops or offices and vice versa. Any buildings since (even those in areas with bicycle traffic plans) cannot, and are therefore less adaptable to changes in the economy. Overall, I find Mr. Gadet's ideas more comprehensive. However, it takes quite some knowledge of Amsterdam (and the Dutch language) to really appreciate his ideas. Therefore I cannot really recommend it.
Another week, another Harvard professor villainy. You'd think that Harvard would get used by now to see its professors' work exposed as shoddy and filled with elementary errors. This time, it is Niall Ferguson again, exposed as having doctored quotes to support his flawed essay last summer, he now had his Romney moment when, having lost the intellectual battle, the good Harvard professor showed his ugly mind with homophobic slurs against Keynes. Perhaps Harvard can send him to a work place sensitivity training.
The various non-apologies of Kenneth Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart are despicable to behold. Paul Krugman is wondering about their motivation and doesn't think that it is corruption. Which is true, the money is just a perk. The corruption occurs much earlier in that the Overton window of who is given tenure is very narrow in the Ivy League. Paul Krugman, a center-right technocrat constitutes the leftmost boundary of the Overton window. It is no wonder that Rogoff and Reinhart were exposed not by one of their fellow Ivy Leaguers but by the unwashed from the University of Massachusetts. Given that Harvard produces America's leaders, I wish it were capable of reform. It is unlikely as Harvard president Drew Gilpin Faust's own This Republic of Suffering is filled with approval for the hackwork On Killing (which, among other failings, relies upon the made-up statistics of SLA Marshall).
Jan Willem Pieneman has two faults. Firstly, he couldn't paint an anatomically correct horse if his life depended on it. He produced the equine equivalent of the backbreaking Escher Girls. Secondly, he is terrible at composition. Line'em up like ducks in a row and fill the remaining space with ill-fitting vignettes. Thanks to your link, I finally learned why the Butte du Lion is situated in such an awkward spot. It marks the place where the Dutch prince was wounded not a vantage spot to understand the battle. I much prefer the work of the Dutch Whistler, George Hendrik Breitner.
Today, I saw a small but wonderful exhibition about medium-sized 19th century panorama paintings by Hubert Sattler. New York without skyscrapers and its famous bridges looked quite different!
Urban planning is a local business and, at least, in settled Western countries, is exceedingly slow. It is incredibly difficult to understand all the linkages, e.g. they are currently (again) trying to turn Vienna's largest shopping boulevard Mariahilfer Strasse into a pedestrian area, which is a sound idea, except that at night, when the shops are closed and only a few cinemas and restaurants are open, the largely empty boulevard feels rather unsafe. Removing the remaining traffic is not helpful. Ideally, they would turn it into a pedestrian zone during shopping hours and allow traffic during the rest of the time.
I think Jan Gehl has more ideas to offer, perhaps not to Holland which has quite good urban areas (and a unique Dutch life style) but certainly Germany and Eastern Europe, as well as America and Australia.
NZZ offered an interesting aspect about the Dutch coronation. The Dutch coronation greatcoat was "restored" by a Swiss tailor fifty years ago who cut out the ancient lions and sewed them onto a new velvet cloth. Thus, the greatcoat isn't truly ancient any more. The tailor kept some of the ancient cloth and made himself a vest out of it, parading around in it in Basel ...
Had Reinhart-Rogoff managed to keep silent instead of playing up their offended precious fee-fees, it would have been a good week for Harvard, after the disastrous revelations a week ago that Harvard awarded PhDs for the message that "Mexicans are the stooopid". Some at Harvard seem to treasure their Bell Curve tradition. Science doesn't advance funeral after funeral all the time. It is strange to find Mexican xenophobia in the corners of the Northeast where the effects of Latino Umvolkung can't be very strong. Who Are We? The Challenges to America's National Identity
Last week, I saw Urbanized (2011), a documentary from the makers of the outstanding Helvetica and the weak Objectifed, which is great regarding the urbanization in the Third World. I wish they had concentrated on that topic as the mix of rich cities urban planning problems did not really combine into a coherent message.
The catalogue to Snapshot: Painters and Photography is well done. It is interesting to compare the pioneers of capturing small moments in images when this was both technically challenging (12 pictures in a roll of film) and wasteful. In an Instagram world, there is the opposite problem of too many images. While the b/w images were already capable to capture likenesses, they lacked the vibrant colors of paintings - hence the niche for photographers-painters from Breitner to Rockwell.
George Packer has been terribly wrong about the Iraq War. Hopefully, his new book The Unwinding restores some of his reputation. The story he seems to be telling, isn't very new, though.
You are right. I have been neglecting our pleasant conversation far too long. My apologies. Still, I noted that you seem not as present on Librarything either. I miss reading the book reviews you used to post on Sunday evenings. My own reading is horribly lagging. At the moment I have put down Die Indoeuropäer: Herkunft, Sprache, Kultur, which is embarrassingly short in itself, for De bakermat van de beurs, a pop history book about the development of early modern stock trading in Amsterdam. It is reasonably interesting. The author has done a lot of research about the people trading the East India Company stock in the 17th century for his doctorate thesis. The creation of the stock market happened almost by accident. The authorities charted the Company for over 20 years. Earlier stocks were usually “unwound” after a much shorter period. The long period until maturity caused the nouveauté to allow trading the “stock” on a daily basis. Other legal rules followed later, as did daily market making. Shorting the stock (contramine in old Dutch) and spreading bad rumours had followed much faster. It was all an evolutionary development at a rather low pace, although the same may be said about asset backed securities half a decade ago or modern “risk allocation” parlance.
One of the things I did in the last few weeks was visit the Stedelijk Museum. With the re-opening of the Rijksmuseum, the queues have diminished. In front of the Rijks they are huge. In its first month the museum attracted some 300,000 visitors, which is almost in the same league as the Louvre. That was despite of the inauguration of King Willem-Alexander on the last day of the month when there were no queues when I walked past it with a beer in my hand. May should be an even better month for the Rijks thanks to the Ascension Day and Whit Monday long weekends. On Ascension Day you had to queue for two hours to access the museum, which pales the lines in front of the Anne Frank House. Getting back to the Stedelijk, I do not yet know what to think about it. The museum shows only a small part of its collection, leaving crowd pleasers like some Chagall paintings or German expressionists and Cobra artists in the museum’s depots. Malevich and Mondriaan were the only painters with more than two works on show. This also made it look a bit as if the curators just wanted to tick boxes of artists: you had your Bonnard, your Leger, your Kirchner, etc. None of the works are really key works (or not as well promoted as works at MOMA), and I found it a bit artificial. I think the idea is to present modern art as a continuous movement to renew itself, or in other words, a festival of creativity. The rooms contained relatively few works, giving many objects plenty of space to be appreciated individually in a museum that is still maybe only a third or a quarter of the size of MOMA. It seems to take its role in the city very seriously, a point that can be appreciated. And oh boy, am I happy that I am not a museum guard in a room half empty except for some arte povera.
The Dutch greatcoat is not ancient at all, and that is generally know. When Beatrix was to be inaugurated in 1980, they found that the greatcoat’s ermine was damaged. New ermine would be too white, so they shopped around to find second hand ermine. This they found from one of the ladies Brenninkmeijer, the family that brought the world Cheap & Awful, and that is partly hiding from the tax man in Switzerland. However, as far as I know the sewing was done by one of Beatrix’ usual tailors. Anyway, the Dutch kingdom is only 200 years old, so none of the regalia is really very old.
Urbanized seems like an interesting film to watch, although I see a lot of the usual suspects featured. Third world cities usually suffer from underinvestment, although that is usually not the case with the capital. Cheap funding also helps. In Chengdu they were developing some 6 or 8 underground railway lines at the same time (by simply knocking down every building that stands in their way). Jakarta, that probably adds up to a thousand new cars a day, still lacks any form of public transport beyond buses, because the president cannot control corruption and is afraid of his clean image. I do not know what is worse. Investment in sewer systems seems even more important if you would ask me. Asian cities are generally safe in most areas, which is not always the case in Africa or Latin America.
As usual, I missed the exhibition of Snapshot: Painters and Photography, not in the least because I detest the queues in front of the Van Gogh Museum. I just hope that showing this in Washington does not turn Breitner into an internationally famous painter. Before you know it, all his works still in private hands and some in museums disappear across the pond. I think the 12 images were not the most challenging elements of photography in the 19th century. Rather, the large cameras required for glass negatives and the development of developed glass and film shortly of exposure seriously diminished the possibilities of early photographers. E.g. all Breitner’s photos (and consequently photographic elements in some of his paintings) were taken within the distance required to get the undeveloped material back to his dark room in time. It all changed when film became more easily available and when Leica developed the first small camera.
I watched another one-hour video featuring Jan Gehl which was again mostly about bicycle paths. I cannot recall which Youtube film it was, but it also paid scant attention to increasing density around public transport stations in Melbourne and about architecture on the lowest five floors of buildings. Overall, it was still a long advertisement for Copenhagen and Jan Gehl. What I did not like was his ranting against modernism and people living in the suburbs. Modernism was not all about cars, at least not in the 1930-1960’s. Amsterdam’s suburbs were all planned having bicycles in mind. Jobs should never be more than 20 minutes cycling away from home and “green fingers” of countryside still reach the edges of the pre-war city. Even later in the 1970’s the segregation of roads and bicycle and pedestrian paths was based upon the mistaken idea that this would create greater security for cyclists and pedestrians, and that all the greenery would allow the inhabitants of flats the possibility to feel “grass below their feet”. It is rather difficult for me to believe that Amsterdam’s aldermen were particularly smart. The later start of the Dutch Wirtschaftswunder may have played a role.
Equally, I did not appreciate Mr. Gehl’s disdain for people who live in the suburbs. Yes, it is ecologically less sound than living in the city, but some people like to have a garden and you can tax their use of cars (Dutch petrol is EUR 1.80 per litre (which should be about USD 8.86 for a gallon) and new cars are also highly taxed. On top of this come some of the worst traffic jams in Europe. People still prefer all this to living in the city. The city is good for people who love to go to the opera or classical concerts, but most people here are happy with a musical in their local theatre once a year. Equally, some may want to see Macbeth, most people find it okay just to see the stand-up comedian they know from television. Some may like second hand bookstores, but many more people prefer to spend their time on upgrading their homes and buy their pool-side holiday thrillers once a year in the airport bookstore or via www.bol.com. Most people can do without the services of the city, but want their car parked in front of their house. I do not believe that is fundamentally different elsewhere. And Mr. Gehl’s desire for lively streets with shops at ground level is going to be seriously frustrated with the rise in internet shopping.
It seems that the economists finally have a catfight going on that may one day cover half a page in the Sun. I have not followed all of Paul Krugman’s blog postings, but I agree with him that there is no excuse for Reinhart and Rogoff’s sloppy use of data and lack of detailing certain assumptions about data choices. One of my Twitterati however asked my attention for R&R’s response on Carmen Reinhart’s homepage. There are some retributals which are at least fine debating, but I am rather more interested in
there is no reason why the ECB should buy only sovereign debt-purchases of senior bank debt along the lines of the US Federal Reserve's purchases of mortgage-backed securities would be instrumental in rekindling credit and working capital for firms. We don't see your attraction to fiscal largesse as a substitute. Periphery Europe cannot afford it and for Germany, which can afford it, fiscal expansion would be procyclical. Any overheating in Germany would exert pressure on the ECB to maintain a tighter monetary policy, backtracking some of the progress made by Mario Draghi. A better use of Germany's balance sheet strength would be to agree on faster and bigger haircuts for the periphery, and to support significantly more expansionary monetary policy by the ECB.
I am afraid they are right, and it is going to cost Germans, Austrians and Dutchmen a lot of money in terms of taxes, lost value on savings and reduced social security. The French have developed far better ideas than a shared European currency. In the current political constellation we are on our way to lost decades Japanese style. American style muddling through with increased government shortages combined with improved balance sheets for banks works better.
Ah, yes! The good old Magyarhilfer Straße. I never went there during my time in Vienna. The place lacked all atmosphere, although Vienna had plenty of that elsewhere.
You're right that Mariahilfer Straße is bland but not of the Ostblock style but generic retail boxes (H&M, Zara, ...). The better shops are off the avenue in the side streets. The real ongoing crime in Vienna shopping is happening on the Graben and Kohlmarkt where the generic international luxury brand boutiques are displacing old retail shops (that could look back on more than 100 years of corporate history). One of Vienna's best small bookstores on Kohlmarkt had to make way for a bland jewelry shop.
Contra American Beauty, living in the suburbs is fine and wonderful (I grew up in one too.). But there are well and badly designed suburbs. Well designed suburbs are fractal nodes of a center (see Garden City), provide infrastructure at walking/biking distance and do not create social boundaries (i.e. include social housing units in the mix). Badly designed suburbs create desperate housewives and neurotic children.
By the way, a film about Vienna and art to look out for is The Best Offer. I loved identifying the different locations in the film. Geoffrey Rush's supposed apartment is in the building Harry Lime used in The Third Man (opposite the National Library). Geoffrey Rush (and the Dutch actress Sylvia Hoeks who I didn't know before) actually visited the Klimt exhibition in the Leopold Museum in 2012 at the same time as me.
You seem to be singularly unlucky with museum queues. The Dutch museums actually offer online tickets to skip the ticket booths. During my last visit to Venice, I could just walk into the Basilica di San Marco with my timed online ticket while the long queues outside were snaking around on the aqua alta planks. Both in Amsterdam and Vienna, it looks like 15 EUR is the new 10 EUR entrance fee (which I find quite high compared to a non-peek cinema entry fee at 7-10 EUR). What I absolutely dislike about the new Rijksmuseum is its closing time of 5pm (meaning last entry at probably 16:30). I can't understand why they do not keep it open until at least 6pm and offer at least one weekday evening opening for the working public.
I am not very fond of the object orientation presentation of the new Rijksmuseum (as well as Vienna's tourist trap rearrangement in the Kunstkammer). Offering few descriptions and no instruction might avoid nasty Kulturdebatten but, in my view, fails to fulfill a museum's mission in public education.
At least there are virtual visits to current and past exhibitions: What Jane Austen saw: Joshua Reynolds at Pall Mall, London 1813. Or the Iraq National Museum with Google View, including many smoking soldiers and excluding many artifacts now in Texan vaults.
Finally, there is little benefit trying to debate Reinhart and Rogoff. Their failure to admit their grave mistakes exposes them as the economics equivalent of climate change deniers. Even though their opinions were based on wrong ideas, wrong methodologies (statistics) and wrong computation, they are unwilling to acknowledge their mistakes and show contrition? Instead of the tars and feathers they deserve for their hack work, they have been exposed to mild criticism by their peers.
Where Reinhart and Rogoff have a point, though, is that they received rough treatment while blatant lies by many of their Harvard and Chicago peers have been given wide passes. Perhaps they can swap stories with Lynndie England. Qoud licet Iovis non licet bovis. Larry Summers who has been wrong about nearly everything is said to be in discussion to become the next FED chairman. Nepotism ruins the proudest empires.
In the local empire around the corner, in Bavaria, it was just revealed that members of the state parliament have generously employed their own family members. One even had the government pay 70.000 EUR to employ his 13 and 14 year old sons (which also violates German child labor laws). But it is much easier to cut social and public services than go after insider rent-seekers.
To preserve the Euro, the European Union would require real leadership not the gray mice currently keeping the seats warm (Barroso, Lady Ashton, van Rompuy). Now, for example, would be a good time, to create a European army, sharply cutting back the inefficient national army and navy units (esp. in the Club Med nations). Or accelerating the consolidation of European air traffic control, or reforming the waste of the common agricultural policies, ... instead, we see attempts to introduce mandatory olive oil dispensers.
Geert Mak's big Dutch book Reizen zonder John op zoek naar Amerika is out in German under a slightly different title "Amerika! Auf der Suche nach dem Land der unbegrenzten Möglichkeiten" (German book trailer). He retraces John Steinbeck's 1960s Travels with Charley trip from New York across the North to the West down the West coast, back to Texas and New Orleans. Steinbeck's book has been the target of a hatchet job by one of the Reason magazine wrecking crew in their beloved "Al Gore is rich and fat, thus climate change doesn't exist" mode. Apparently, Steinbeck didn't slum it out but stayed in fancy hotels and embellished conversations.
It will be interesting what Europe's lovechild of Rudy Carrell and Tom Friedman has to say about America. In contrast to Friedman, Mak writes well and owns a big heart. I have ordered a cheap copy of Steinbeck's book and am looking forward to reading Mak's during the summer.
Just a quick note: Reizen zonder John did not do much here. I do not think it stayed on the bestseller list for more than a few weeks. If I recall it, the content was considered sentimental. Mak was criticised for looking too much at American decay and too little about where America proofs to be dynamic. Mak is an old hippie, of course.
Mak a love baby of Rudi Carrell? You are getting old. The Dutch have since successfully rid themselves of Sylvie van der Vaart, although less so of the minstrel Jantje Smit. Die Holländer sind so locker!
Time to read about PRISM first.
Getting old happens to the best of us. I chose Rudi because he is the most prominent of many, many Dutch men with giant white mop of hair (Wim Duisenberg or Kok), a strange regional preference like bushy mustaches in the Middle East. Sylvie van der Vaart mostly escaped my notice being neither interested in football (Arjen Robben, like me, an unlikely candidate for a Dutch mop) nor casting shows - I have yet to see a complete casting show. It takes a Susan Boyle to make me take notice, though I usually prefer the original version to the copy.
Sentimental is a good word to describe Mak's style. In his travel essay about Istanbul, The Bridge, he preferred hanging out with the elderly shopkeepers instead of looking at modern Turkey in Taksim square. We will see whether the protests in Turkey translates into a more modernized, Europeanized Turkey. Only 31% of the Turkish population has secondary education and even today's youth will only obtain a lifetime level of 54% (OECD 2012 - ranked 26 out of 27 countries).
With PRISM, we see another instance where we have to relearn the lessons of the past. Big Brother 2.0 evades some of the problems. Firstly, computerization has made data capture much easier. Our cell phones log our locations and communications around the clock. Tracking other people's lives used to require much effort. One has to admire the bureaucratic effort that went into creating all those neat Stasi reports. Mountains over mountains of reports, nobody would ever read.
The second problem they solved is outsourcing the collection. The government only accesses the information another entity is collecting for its own purpose. Google and Facebook collect, create and maintain detailed personal profiles of everyone with a dime to spend. The program thus isn't hugely expensive as it doesn't have to employ large numbers of Heimatschutz employees.
The third problem they supposedly solved is accountability. The data is collected by a service provider, an outsourced organization allowing all entities to declare that they didn't provide information to the government (only to the service provider). This crazy game has been played in the Bush wars where US special forces took a British soldier along on their raids who captured all persons they took. Thus, the US didn't have to account for these prisoners to the Red Cross. The US also (mostly) "didn't torture", as the Americans sat in the room beside the torture chamber while they waited for the contractors to slice the victims' penis, rape or mutilate them. Pontius Pilate had a lot more integrity. Jeremy Scahill's Dirty Wars is a great book about this topic. Reading it makes me sad, angry and wondering why the perpetrators are not in jail.
Switzerland had its own Big Brother 1.0 problem when it was revealed that a good chunk of leftist politicians, activists and artists were surveyed and their activities logged in dossiers. Shortly before his death, Friedrich Dürrenmatt gave an excellent speech in honor of Vaclav Havel, Die Schweiz als Gefängnis (Switzerland a prison? 1990) that is highly relevant to the PRISM issues. Its main sentence is that Switzerland is a prison where the inmates are their own guards in order to protect their own liberties. Freedom depends on the existence of a closed system willingly maintained by the people within and defended by an Orwellian appeal to their freedom and liberties (cf. PATRIOT Act).
The difference between Switzerland and the modern US is that the US delegates the job of warden to corporations, so they are dealing not with their co-citizens in an experiment of social conformance but with institutions, e.g. mall security guards. Apple Corporation is actually building their version of the panopticon. The circle as design principle means lengthy trips to visit other parts of the building.
Meanwhile, to familiarize myself with MOOC (massive open online courses), I intend to take or at least have a closer look at Coursera's A New History for a New China, 1700-2000: New Data and New Methods in July. It combines social and economic history.
Oh, Holland is further away from Italian bella figura than either Switzerland or Austria. Dutch men do not change their hairstyle after their youth, unless they get bold. In that case the last decade subscribes a Glatze. But all others stick to the fashion of their youth, and people like Duisenberg, Carell, Mak or Kok grew up in the 1950's. Equally, I cannot say either that I ever saw Sylvie van der Vaart perform in any entertainment or news show (supposedly, she was the royalty correspondent for a German TV-show during the inauguration of Willem-Alexander), nor can I hum any song of Susan Boyle. I am that weltfremd that I had never even heard of Sylvia Hoeks. Like most people in my circle, we rarely watch television nowadays. I am about the last one who still listens to CD's also. And I do enjoy the various jazz and classical stations on the radio, but that is more for the randomness of choice that they offer.
I have no idea where the Turkish protests will go to, or if they will have any effect on the Turkish communities elsewhere in Europe. It is an interesting movement, if only because it seems to be mostly made up of people who normally do not protest. These were city people with an international outlook (people like our readers, I suppose), and at least the second or third generation of descendants of people who have left the Anatolian heartland. Last weekend I saw the solidarity march of a few hundred Turks through Amsterdam. They were led by an Antillean drum band instead of by a türkische Trommel. None of the women wore a headscarf; you could find those shopping at Zara. The FT ran some good articles about Erdogan and his party, that has strong support from construction companies. Erdogan seems to execute more infrastructure and building projects than that other European sun king, François Mitterand.
I do not think that Prism is fundamentally different from previous forms of spying, except for the scale that is applied. And even in that sense there is little news. Eighty percent of Amsterdam's Jews were easily rounded up in the Second World war, in part because the city had a perfect administration that included people's religion. It is an early example of the negative effects of big data.
The only thing where the Land of The Free let me down is that they think they can spy on every foreigner without giving such a person any rights or insight in how the data are used. Let me give you an example. I was out near the Royal Palace here during the inauguration of Willem-Alexander (the last time I am going to mention that non-news item). Two Moroccan girls with a headscarf where also attending. One entered the crowd, with her friend waiting. The friend started to call "Jihad, Jihad" after a few minutes. Luckily the available police was very relaxed about it, understanding the intonation of what was said. And that despite that these constables were country bumpkins who hardly knew their way around. Among certain religious Moroccans "Jihad" is a not uncommon girl's name. Now suppose you were Jihad, one of her friends or even a colleague or classmate. Your email will regularly end up in the claws of Prism. How are they going to frame you? In the European Union if you share the same name as a criminal on the watch list you will get delays every time you cross into the Schengen area. But at least you can ask. The Americans do this in a secret programme. What is worse, they do it on a 20 million dollar-a-year budget, that will not even by you a single Joint Strike Fighter. I am sure Google and Amazon have far higher budgets to frame you and look how bad their suggestions and advertisements are. With the massive amounts of data the Americans will have to frame everybody to have the data have any sense at all. And that while subtlety was never a feature of American government.
So to come back to your arguments, to me computerisation is only a marginal improvement. You can collect more data on a person and probably track a circle of people more easily if you have found a (potential) culprit, but I doubt if it helps very much in other areas, not to mention that most acts of terrorists on American soil are executed by loners. In terms of data collection there is nothing new under the sun either. Spies have always relied upon informants and outside data sources. Just the collection process is geared to far larger amounts of data. Stasi reports by the way were often used against a person once they had some suspicion against a person, no matter what the proof was. I met one during my visit to the Stasi Museum in Berlin last year. And as far as I understand accountability plays no role, because the lex Americana does not give a flying something about foreigners. As far as I understand the computers that process the data are all owned and run by the American government. I doubt if any data are "crunched" in Bangalore or other overseas locations, except probably in some specific cases where language may be important. That said, I would be interested to know what use the data can have to spy on foreign governments. Find one weak government in a coalition, and you may get access to a lot of information, traditionally the interest of spying agencies.
As a side note, last week, the newspaper had an article about research in making computers understand language better to improve data collection. Spying agencies will be very interested in this. There are some hedge funds that seem to try to analyse articles and make investment decisions on that. They claim it works in America (of course they do), but not in Britain. British English is too subtle for this. The Financial Times had an interesting series of articles about the commercial use of data you leave behind on Google and Facebook. You could even calculate the value of your own data. Mine was 30 cents. Obviously that means they cannot analyse all that info in a way that they can hit me in my weak spot(s).
Friedrich Dürrenmatt gives an interesting description of Switzerland, but I one that I am familiar with. The newspaper here (could never find it on the paper's website) described Switzerland as a group of cantons where it can take generations before you are accepted as one of them. Mountain valleys seem to have a lot in common with islands. That article was based upon interviews with anthropologists, not on an interview with the late great Mr. Dürrenmatt.
MOOC is certainly interesting. Globalisation is now getting beyond shipbuilders and textile and electronics factory workers and starts to hit more and more sectors of the economy. You may wonder how this is going to affect us in the old rich countries. Krugman, no less, ran an interesting article about this:
Today, however, a much darker picture of the effects of technology on labor is emerging. In this picture, highly educated workers are as likely as less educated workers to find themselves displaced and devalued, and pushing for more education may create as many problems as it solves.
Personally, Krugman does not need to worry. He is one of the intellectual stars who will gain from globalisation. As are Reinhart and Rogoff. You have clearly written the two off completely. Still the three have more in common than you may think, as you can read here:
The R-Team have been members in good standing of Team-K, with the exception of (7), on which they have exercised a major line wobble.
Point 7 being running a deficit. It seems to be something very American to be exceptionally (or even ideologically) worrying about it.
And as for the Rijksmuseum, I know that I can buy (discounted!) tickets on the internet. But I still monitor the queues. Museums should not be too crowded. I like to wander around (almost) randomly. I do not like to wait for the next statue or painting, because there is an Italian tourgroup ahead of me. But I am patient. I waited for 10 years, I can wait until late Autumn too. And I have the pleasure to cycle at full speed through the tunnel again, that is a good thing. I have no idea why the Rijks is not open any later, as some other museums are. But you can book it for a private evening tour if you are willing to spend the money.
Empty museums are creepy too, especially if they are overstaffed. I always feel like an intruder when I am one of the first or only visitor in a castle or museum. It is much harder for the staff to block out my inane comments/conversations as there is nobody else to distract them. But even in a crowded museum, you can escape the squeeze if you notice the patterns and act counter-cyclical. Instead of waiting for the room to clear, go see some side attraction. Usually, if you return a quarter of an hour later, the congestion has cleared.
The genial TV series The Wire starts with just this dilemma:
Detective James 'Jimmy' McNulty: Let me understand. Every Friday night, you and your boys are shootin? crap, right? And every Friday night, your pal Snot Boogie... he'd wait till there's cash on the ground and he'd grab it and run away? You let him do that?
Kid: We'd catch him and beat his ass but ain't nobody ever go past that.
Det. McNulty: I've gotta ask you: if every time Snot Boogie would grab the money and run away... why'd you even let him in the game?
Det. McNulty: Well, if every time, Snot Boogie stole the money, why'd you let him play?
Kid: Got to. It's America, man.
The Harvard (and Chicago) Snot Boogies are given endless credit instead of being drummed out of the profession because of malpractice. Without having issued a good mea culpa, RR will with certainty return with a crapshot. Newest example in unprofessional but peer-reviewed Harvard output comes from the guy whose own statements were contradicted by his own textbook and who thinks the one percent lack defenders. Apart from the ridiculous idea that Bill Gates or J.K. Rowling need media support from Mankiw, a basic understanding of marginal value should give all but the ideology-driven the clear message that re-distribution produces superior outcomes. John McCain didn't even know how many houses he owned (10? 11?). Given that the US House of Representatives is cutting the food assistance of hungry children, Mankiw's output is not only intellectually shoddy but supremely callous.
It is sad that many Harvard professors see it as their mission to defend the one percent and obscure truth. Like the think tanks that employ only hacks, too much of Harvard is rotten. Unfortunately, these naked emperors are not exposed but supported by those lower on the totem pole. Brad Delong enables such behavior and never found the strength to point out the bad policies advocated and executed by his best buddy Larry Summers (who is thanked in Mankiw's dreadful paper - another case where Summers failed to reduce misery). Holding his buddies to professional standards would put Delong at risk of not being invited to the cushy retreats. It is one thing to suffer from the policy mistakes from the best and the brightest. The world has to endure nepotism and hacks. Speaking of hacks, Niall F. is promoting his new book The Great Degeneration: How Institutions Decay and Economies Die. It is unfortunately not a tell-all book about his time at Harvard. In his last book, he discovered "apps" that created success. In this book, there are four "black boxes" (democracy, capitalism, the rule of law, civil society). If the "historian" had asked any lawyer, he might have discovered that democracy is played according to laws set down in the constitution and that capitalism depends on the concept of property. Sloppy thinking by a Harvard Snot Boogie.
Turkey is an interesting test case whether the American approach can be cracked. Probably not. Erdogan works by combining the 1%, the media and the ignorant masses living in the provinces. The middle class concentrated in the cities is not strong enough to break his grip and usher in more elements of modernity. Turkey badly needs more investment and infrastructure. Istanbul is still a crazy mix of state of the art modernity and medieval world, with donkeys in the midst of the city (not as tourist attractions such as the Viennese Fiaker which provide the city with its distinct summer aroma). I expect a brain drain from Turkey and a turn towards Arab-style "big projects" rule.
The NSA surveillance program, besides its disregard for civil liberties and the opinions of mankind, will be prone to abuse (similar to the Czech PM's mistress tasking the secret service to snoop on the PM's wife) and false positives. The combination of extreme automation (setting computerized flags based on key words) and using the cheapest possible service providers for the warm bodies will inevitably result in bad decisions. In Austria, there was the case of a student turned back upon the arrival at US immigration for his tourist visit. As no reasons have to be given for the denial of entry, the reporters speculate that is was due for him having produced some graphic illustrations for Occupy Wallstreet which will have created flags of connections to "terrorists". It is crazy to think that entry to the US will become more difficult for many than a visa to Russia or China. I wish there was a bigger chance of restoring some liberties.
On a more positive level, I see MOOC as a modern version of Volkshochschule, of inexpensive but high quality mass adult education. Time-shifting and multimedia allow a deeper level of involvement and understanding than, say, the often dumbed-down TV documentaries. Compared to classic websites (Wikipedia) or books, MOOC allow greater activation and customization. The main question is payment. In the long run, if it is not to become a premium product, there will few other options than public funding.
Television? Good that you mention it! I should turn it on again to see if it still works. And if I turn it on then it is mainly to watch a film. I still have lots of DVD's, even bought some on sale a week ago. The decade of owning your disks is coming to an end.
But I do remember a documentary about Turkish businessmen from about two years ago. They were all running their factories in some business park in the Anatolian hinterland and doing good business. They were quite religious. The business park had at least one big mosque, and if I am not mistaken more. What they talked about was wuchern mit Talenten; they were capitalists in the best tradition of the Protestantische Ethik. They were all strong supporters of Erdogan, and are probably the backbone of Erdogan's party. What is so funny about Turkey is that a lot of Erdogan's success is based upon the country's negotiations with the EU. The free trade agreement allows it to export and the human rights requirements have reduced the power of the armed forces. It also helped to create a relatively peaceful situation around Kurdistan. And where the desire for being part of Europe is probably nowhere stronger than among the old elites of Istanbul and Ankara, Erdogan is using these successes to turn east. Turkey's status is based upon its mixture of democracy and openness (Turkey is the areas largest producer of pornography, to give just one detail) and Middle Eastern culture. The last time I was in Istanbul was in 1997 on some project work. My colleagues there were all part of that old Turkish elite. To give you an example, one of the female managers had just lost ehr driving license, because she was caught driving with a high alcohol promillage. In the best Turkish tradition she also smoked like a chimney. These people had been everywhere in Europe and everything about European culture, putting many of my countrymen and women to shame. But for the rest their behaviour was a kind of... Middle Eastern: enormously hospitable at the start but when we experienced delays due to outside factors they could become as authoritarian as Erdogan on a whim. It seems you are convinced that Turkey will collapse. Turkey certainly profited much of the easy money policies of the large central banks and runs consistent balance of payments deficits, but if it is enough for the economy to collapse is another matter. I think the survival of the current regime or a turn to the west will more depend upon the rise in education in Anatolia. I do not think that Turks are such intolerant Muslims, although you certainly have them, also here in Holland. I quite liked the analysis of developments in Morocco in the Dutch book Tussen hoofddoek en string: Marokko, de snelle modernisering van een Arabisch land (I reviewed/summarised that book). Although the author was not very successful in his forecast, re-arranging some of his arguments helped in understanding the modernisation process in such Muslim countries where many villages have their first generation of literate citizens. In Morocco it led to a turn to a moderately fundamentalist cabinet that is not necessarily more intolerant than previous governments. It sort of fits how I experienced travelling around the country. And yes, in 1997 Istanbul was mostly still a third world city. But certainly one of the most charming.
Yeah, this Mankiw-paper was hilarious. I got it via Twitter as "a contrarian view", proofing that some Dutchmen are capable of almost English understatement. It would be really difficult for me to take such a man's textbooks seriously. While being among the top elite of his country, he still thinks his children have an average chance of an upper class lifestyle. It was just one of his outrageous statements. I do not know if it his views are simply bad faith or outright stupidity from a man living in an Ivory Tower. In that sense I am a bit more positive about Niall Ferguson, who seems to at least attack the cosy nepotism of the big conglomerates and Washington. But I have no intention of reading his book. I do not like apps and black boxes to explain society. But please say something positive about the IMF and its own analysis of how it operated in the Greek crisis and how we are all paying to save Merkel's and Sarkozy's banks.
MOOC could indeed be an upgraded version of what we call a volksuniversiteit. That institution is quite popular for language courses, but overall their programme is no longer extremely interesting. MOOC could be a good replacement, although it will increase the star system that you also find in popular music and Hollywood cinema. The increasing popularity of English (now maybe even at French universities, oh dear!) and the economies of scale will give people like Mankiw and Ferguson an even more prominent podium. And it is mostly one-way communication, not unlike the massive universities we have created in the last decades. What I miss is an institution like Felix Meritis, whose building still graces the Keizersgracht. It was an institution for the arts and sciences for burghers, who could do their own astronomic observations from the buildings observatory, but also listen to speeches of (visiting) professors or the music of Robert Schumann. University faculties may have a few such meetings a year for alumnis, but that does not encompass all the sciences. Note that the society also aimed at commerce, obviously aiming at the ideal of the mercator sapiens of the influential local professor of philosophy Caspar Barlaeus. It is a concept mostly absent in the world of Chicago School and Harvard "shareholder value" capitalism. Geert Mak held an approving speech about it, which does not seem to have been translated into English, but maybe Google Chrome can translate it for you. I do not expect that anything will disturb the managers of PRISM.
Last Sunday, there marched more Turks outside Vienna's city center since the siege of 1683: a thousand contra-Erdogan (White Turks) and 8.000 pro-Erdogan (Black Turks). The police fortunately managed to keep these two marching groups apart. The opinions of the pro-Erdogan guys were both weird, theocratic and anti-Western. Essentially, their goal is to deprive other people's liberties (of demonstrating, of assembling, of drinking, of publishing, ...).
Some years ago, The Economist published a map of the major nations social and religious point of view. The closest neighbor of the US was not Europe (more secular and liberal) but Turkey! The US and Turkey share a similar social and political landscape: A rich urban core on the seaboard which creates most of the wealth and a large, backward, ignorant and religious hinterland that is given more than proportional political representation. These moochers (or more precisely, the oligarchy controlling them) then restrict and deny the real producers their liberties and freedoms.
As the size of the two demonstrating groups show, Vienna's Turks are composed of the backward type. Now, cities are great civilization machines that have always managed to assimilate and integrate country folk. As Thilo Sarrazin has correctly diagnosed the Turkish failure of integration is due to the second generation seeking uneducated (even illiterate) partners from their homeland which breaks the process of integration. Given the large number already present in Vienna, Cologne and Berlin, ghettos further restrict the necessary assimilation. In the West, the liberal government should demand (and help to achieve) a minimum level of integration and especially language skills.
The German magazine Der Spiegel has produced a special issue with a Turkey focus that included part of the text translated into Turkish. It probably hopes that the Turkish government will confiscate the issue. To make it a purely political matter, the issue does not feature, as far as I can see, the typical artistically or politically "necessary" nude image that is usually part of every issue, thus preventing the easy Turkish "pornography" censorship argument when presented with a naked tit.
I am not as pessimistic as Geert Mak. The mismanagement of the current ruling class is too large and constantly failing to self-correct into a more moderate direction, so that some form of reaction will occur. Not in the US, which is taking out one piece after another in a socially destructive Jenga game. Europe is our only hope (despite Mario Draghi playing Antonio, Shylock and the judge in turn, and a staggering level of shameless greed).
Steinbeck's Travels with Charley was quite a boring trip: The old man, his incontinent old dog and the road. Only him witnessing the end of segregation (memorably captured in Norman Rockwell's great The Problem We All Live With) added some punch (but is filled with stereotypes - he picks up and talks with constructed cardboard characters). So, I have not yet picked up Mak's book which has an old journalist following in the footsteps of an old writer on the empty roads of America's hinterland.
Instead, I am tremendously enjoying Kerstin Decker's Nietzsche und Wagner: Geschichte einer Hassliebe. 2013 being the year of Wagner and Verdi, and Wagner's connection to Zurich and Vienna, I thought I had to read a bit about him too. Nietzsche, Wagner, Ludwig of Bavaria and the rest of the cast are hilarious and the slapstick moments never-ending: Nietzsche was spared thrice from duels because his opponents were prevented by force majeure from dispatching him (ending up in jail and hospital just before the time appointed). Eloped Cosima giving birth in beautiful Tribschen during the night, robbing the sleep of newly appointed professor Nietzsche who pretended not to notice the uproar in the house. Pure Woody Allen!
MoMA features a new exhibition on LeCorbu. I am not a fan, I find his works cold and impractical. I prefer Richard Neutra and other modernists that aimed for more livable, cozy buildings for human use.
I have not seen any pro-Erdogan demonstrations here in Amsterdam, although we have some experiences with riots between Turks and Kurds. I have no explanation for this lack of pro-Erdogan demonstrations. Turks in the Netherlands are quite oriented towards their country of origin. Probably Erdogan’s party thinks the German language area is more interesting than the much smaller Dutch area. Or they keep in mind the stronger anti-Islamic populist movement in the Netherlands and Belgium, although Brussels should have more foreign correspondents than Vienna or even Berlin.
I think we discussed this before, but the Dutch experience with immigrant marriages seems to be different, despite that the Netherlands recruited its Turkish immigrants from areas deeper in the Anatolian hinterland than Germany and from the Moroccan Atlas mountain range (rather than the Sicilians that came to Germany). The Dutch “needed” Gastarbeiter somewhat later than in Germany. But if you read these statistics from the government Statistics Bureau then Dutch Turks and Moroccans no longer import large numbers of brides and grooms from their country of origin, but marry within their own group in the Netherlands. Politicians of course claim that this is due to more restrictive policies to import marriage partners. Demographists say that this is more generic: if the group is large enough and if there are marriage partners of the right (culturally defined) age gap in the new country, then importation will diminish automatically. I intend to believe the demographists. And if I see the third generation now, then the picture becomes even more positive. On a recent visit to the public library, I found it full of headscarved girls seriously studying and gossiping. On the other hand, a growing number of serious criminals come from immigrant groups and they are above averagely violent. Almost all the staff in my local supermarket is from Turkey or Morocco, although being a cashier or a stock clerk does not seem to offer the best career perspective. But these young people do express that typical Amsterdam sense of humour much better than the snotty blondes and brunettes in the local imitations of Dean & DeLuca. Integration is on-going, but it is a slow process that takes multiple generations. If that works differently in Germany, then there is something rotten in the state of Germany. On the other hand, Amsterdam’s Portuguese Jews remained a distinctive group for almost 300 years and older Dutch cities still have “Walloon” churches with Protestant services in French, although I have no idea who goes there.
Ha, your video of Raffaele Baldassarre MEP was blocked, but I had seen it already. It was made by the trashy Dutch broadcast corporation Powned. They operate in the same style as the late Theo van Gogh, and are excellent proof that the truth does not always have a “liberal” bias. The left are standard-bearers of political correctness and at least as good at covering up inconvenient truths as the right. For more Dutch reporting, may I recommend to you Joris Luyendijk’s blog for the Guardian about investment banks in the City? Luyendijk is a young anthropologist who worked in the Middle East before looking at civilisations closer to home. His book about Cairo Een goede man slaat soms zijn vrouw (a good man sometimes beats up his wife), was still a product of the PC-generation, but this blog is kind of interesting. Of course it only covers a small part of all the activities in the City, but it is the one where people like Draghi worked. What you get is a far cry from a Mankiw paper. I think you will like it.
Regarding the similarities between the US and Turkey, have you read Huntington’s Political order in changing societies? I expect you have not and neither have I. I was triggered by this article and our earlier discussion about the United States. The article assembles some interesting facts about “Emerging Markets” and ends with a conclusion that it does not really support, but that is not what interests me. What I find interesting is that a large part of the American heartland is so uncompromising against the government. This is a kind of puzzling if you compare America to not only “Old Europe”, but also some other newly rich countries:
His thesis is that in societies undergoing rapid change, the demand for public services grows faster than the ability of governments to meet it.
If Huntington is right, could the reverse also be true, i.e. that if the income and educational education disparity grow, this is will automatically lead to an anti-government attitude. It seems unlikely, but I find it interesting to entertain the idea.
Thanks for the remark about Le Corbusier. I have a little Taschen book about him, and I am certainly going to visit some of his buildings on a next trip to Paris (as I want to visit Brutalist architecture in London). Before that I would not want to judge your compatriot as "cold and impractical". If you watch the little video about l'Unité d’habitation, it was not what he strove for. Le Corbu had a strict Calvinistic background, not unlike the hardcore communist Bauhaus architect Mart Stam. I suppose Le Corbusier had socialist sympathies too. That said, their generation was probably the last that tried to elevate the working class. After that social democracy became more and more a defender of specific interests. Still, by modern standards the ideas about how to create communities as described in Geuzenveld 1953-2009 (which I reviewed/summarised) seem rather undemocratic, if with the best intentions. Modernism had its totalitarian streak and I find that just as fascinating as visiting museums from the communist era in Moscow or Saint Petersburg.
Re Corbu: totally agree. Though of course he was fascinating, as a phenomenon.
But, as Charles Jencks - another fascinating guy I don't necessarily agree with - once said, face to face with yours truly: "I don't want to sleep in a spatial experience".
The US and Turkey share a similar social and political landscape:
One feature of the US's "Middle Kingdom" absent in Turkish hinterland are the fabulous universities, pockets of true dynamic enlightenment, research and innovation. Oases in the desert, maybe, but vigorous sources of the genius end of American non-conformism.
Wow, so many topics. In Black Jack, one would have to do multiple splits.
Let's start with Turkey. The pro-Erdogan guys they interviewed here revealed a shocking, incoherent and anti-democratic world view. Some of them demanded the establishment of a theocracy which shows the total failure of the Austrian education system in regard to the Turkish immigrants. Given their educationally deprived background, the state should have provided special resources for them to properly learn both their mother tongue as well as German. Instead, these youth are now unable to speak and write properly in any of the two languages as they did not have Turkish language instruction and nearly half of students with a Turkish migrant background fail to complete compulsory secondary education. The educational failure is much greater among men who have extremely limited job prospects. The cognitive dissonance of an extreme macho/pasha culture and the reality seems to push many into "religion" (of the same type as the US hyper-Christians unable to enumerate the ten commandments).
This authoritarian and confrontational religiosity has perversely been nurtured by the government as Muslim religious instruction has been provided by highly dubious fellows financed by Saudi Arabia. Some of them were let go after a survey had shown that a large majority of Muslim instructors thought democracy a bad idea and only following the law if it complied with sharia. A minority was also on board with wife-beating. Germany and Austria now have a lost generation on their hand, They were lucky up to now that the Islamic terrorists have a Saudi and Pakistani background. If the authoritarians in Turkey should lose their battle, it might trigger an Islamic redo of the Rote Armee Fraktion (RAF). How can they (and their American fundamentalist brethren-in-spirit) learn to work together with groups they consider an abomination?
>129 "Oasis" is an apt description. After a few days, you'll notice the limited attractions on offer in an oasis (perfect for a research university which wants its people locked up in the labs and offices). When I visited Princeton, I was quite shocked by its sleepy American Beauty provincialness. By the way, I don't like the smaller European university cities like Heidelberg either, as they lack critical urban mass. All of Heidelberg's urban misery is concentrated in its central shopping center Galeria Kaufhof. The most liberating factor in the US and the world was and is the internet.
Which is precisely why the US efforts to spy and record everything (even the boring EU via the remote maintenance system) is so dangerous to the modern world. If everything is recorded and stored for retrieval, it will stifle discussion and experimentation. I hope our online future will not end in a virtual Disneyland with "free speech zones" and Orwellian network hygiene. The US establishment seems to shrug off the revelations, so there is little chance of cutting back the security state. Obama's WTF campaign slogan will not lose its relevance.
Huntington was an ideology-driven conservative bigot from Harvard, so you are well advised to check what he subsumes under "public services". The American heartland loves their military bases, their agricultural subsidies, their highways, their medicaid and medicare etc. They unfortunately have been brainwashed to think badly of the government despite the fact that the blue states pump billions into these places. At the root of the current US decline is its rotten education system and its bland corporate media.
>127 Seeking out Brutalist architecture? You are a glutton for punishment. Birmingham, UK, has pulled down its ugly Brutalist library. The new one looks like a stack of xmas presents on the outside and a bland shopping mall on the inside.
Have you seen ARTE's excellent architecture TV documentary series Architectures / Baukunst? I have the DVD collection which includes Le couvent de la Tourette de Le Corbusier.
Corbu and most architects/urban planners suffer from what Dietrich Dörner calls ballistic decision making: All decisions are taken at one point in time which results in pure but impractical structures. Good structures evolve organically (see Dublin's Trinity College for a beautiful example of organic growth). Christopher Alexander with his full scale mock-ups and especially Stewart Brand's genial How buildings learn demonstrate that a master plan is bound to fail. Good growth happens in stages - wonderfully demonstrated in the evolution of a Chinese fishing village in the current MAK exhibition about Asian architecture. Besides the fishermen's huts, they first built a series of modest concrete houses. In the next step, they added a second story to these houses. In the next step, they built mid-sized apartment blocks opposite the concrete houses and demolished the fishermen's huts, so that they now had had two levels of upgrades. Next, they built apartment towers and filled in the gaps between the apartment blocks. With most of the population now in the apartment blocks and towers, they are currently demolishing the two-story concrete houses. Gradual change over 30 years done right.
>129 A propos the Middle Kingdom, Melvyn Bragg's latest In Our Time covered Romance of the Three Kingdoms, though I didn't find it a stellar episode.
The UK's National Gallery is showing an exhibition about Vermeer and Music, though the four Vermeers on display are my least favorites. Hopefully, they bring the topic of 17th century music alive.
Oh, ha--I was thinking "Middle Earth" and wrote "Kingdom" instead--goes to show I'm more into China than Tolkien.
The educational failure is much greater among men who have extremely limited job prospects. The cognitive dissonance of an extreme macho/pasha culture and the reality seems to push many into "religion"
Years ago, a friend who was a correspondent from Bruxelles made the same observation about Muslim men from the Maghreb there. Most were jobless and looking likely to remain so, while women worked for them, in menial jobs beneath male pride. And the loss of status gets compensated for by increased violence against those same women (lest they should get uppity, just because they are breadwinners.) Very unpleasant and troublesome situation.
But as for Austria and Germany--don't you think the seeds for the current situation were sown fifty years ago, when the first Turkish Gastarbeiter appeared and were immediately ghettoized? They weren't supposed to stay, so they weren't treated with acculturation and assimilation in mind. Granted also that the times were very different, and racism probably hit Turks harder than the other, relatively "whiter" sorts, but if the slant had been from the first to welcome them as immigrants (which is what so many turned out to be), perhaps the situation today might look different.
Caeterum censeo religionem esse delendam. ;)
There is one theory/interpretation that Tolkien's Gondor is besieged Vienna with the fellowship traveling there from the Shire (England) via Moria (Switzerland with its gnomes!). The Rohirrim provide relief like the winged Polish Hussars against the Eastern hordes ...
Large scale Turkish immigration (in contrast to temporary workers) actually only took place since the early 1980s - triggered by a failed German bureaucratic effort to save money: To combat widespread child support benefit fraud for the families left behind in Kurdistan, Germany changed the laws to only pay for those children living with their parents in Germany. thus leading to a flood of Turkish family members into Germany. Concentrated in already socially deprived areas, these immigrants were in desperate need of public investment in education and building up of cultural capital. Politics more or less tried to ignore the "temporary" issues. Only now, a generation later, most of that generation being citizens, are the problems being addressed.
The main challenge is how a modern liberal state can effect social change partially against the will of a group. It would be difficult to promote gender equality among Orthodox Jews. It is harder still to promote feminism among young, poor, pregnant recently wed Turkish immigrants who do not speak the language. Necla Kelek, herself a Turkish immigrant just before the great wave, keeps fighting against both the German left (which wants to tolerate intolerant people), the right (which wants to see them go) and much of the Turkish community (which keeps its eyes firmly closed).
She is, for example, trying to raise awareness that the very common practice of marrying a cousin has resulted in much higher rates of genetic diseases among the Turkish community in Germany than the rest of the population. How can a liberal state intervene to depreciate such practices which mainly hurt the children of the Turkish community (and cost the German health care systems already a fortune). The main "battle" is educating the women about childcare, sex education, civil rights and modernity. In the words of Berlin's district mayor Heinz Buschkowsky, this is a cultural fight where lost territory has to be regained street by street. As social and urban planners have painfully learned, integration is hindered as long as ghettos exist.
The Charles Jencks quote is great. You do not necessarily have to admire something to find it fascinating to watch. Have you seen the film Get Carter? This British attempt at a film noir is much nicer than what you would expect from the trailer. The story itself is so-so, but the images of merry old England around 1970 are wonderful. A brutalist car park plays a star role in one scene. Modernist architecture makes fine backgrounds for my photography. I have no glutton for punishment.
But you are right: much of modernist architecture is too well planned and that is what makes these areas inflexible. Now a lot of buildings were needed to accommodate the post-war generation with its rising quickly rising wealth levels. The same had happened at the end of the 19th century, but these buildings are often more flexible. Here modernism fails compared to previous generations. On the other hand, what we got handed down from more than a century ago are only those buildings that were well-built and had appeal. Many were torn down for something better or more economical. The same will happen with modernism. Quite a few ones here have lost against the pneumatic drill already, sometimes unfortunately.
Regarding Turkey, it seems the Austrian press had picked up some followers of the Grey Wolves, a pan-Turkish rather treife club. There is also the populist Islamic Gülen movement that operates out of the United States. In general the Turkish government tries to control its overseas subjects and their descendants, among others via mosques and their ulema. Still, I would expect that Turks identify themselves first of all as Turkish and then as Muslim although the two are linked strongly among Erdogan's followers. Turks have very strong family ties, stronger than among those of the Maghreb, the place of origin of many Muslims in France, Belgium and the Netherlands. You find greater diversity in integration among Muslims from the Maghreb than among. In that sense the Germans and Austrians simply chose the wrong ethnicity (after lobbying from the United States to cement Turkey's position in NATO; the European military contribution may not be up to American standards, but in terms of integrating the outside world they do a much better job than America).
There are some tapes on the internet from Islamic "brethren" helping in the jihad against Assad in Syria. How many of them are Turkish or Moroccan is not known, but they speak Dutch, even if they cut the throat of some enemy. It is unclear if they speak Flemish or proper Dutch, but you could see the use of Dutch among young Muslims as a sign of a halfway failed/successful integration. All these booklets about how to live the life of a good Salafist are available in Dutch in multiple bookstores (cum laundrette/clothes repair shop/telephone shop, you name it) around the city. The language is not the problem. What you see is that young Moroccan men indeed have a problem in adjusting to the behaviour expected from them in a society that is rational and does not care much for honour.
I doubt if the reception of Gastarbeiter would have made much difference. In general the men came earlier and were allowed to bring their families over in the late 1970's or 1980's (only Switzerland sent its "guest workers" back). This was after the men had been living here for quite some time. The families found housing in the areas that fitted their income level. In the first decades they were pampered with classes in the language of their country of origin, but that has stopped here now. What LolaWalser should also keep in mind is the change that the Middle East went through. When these guest workers came to Western Europe, nationalists still ruled in much of the newly independent countries. The leaders of independence movements often saw Islam as a reason for the backwardedness of their countries (think Bourguiba, Soekarno and of course Ataturk; even the earliest president of Pakistan loved his whisky). However, their regimes were discredited by their corruption and mismanagement. Islamism is partially the answer to earlier nationalism and socialist planning. Additionally there are the oil wealth on the Arabian peninsula with their über-conservative societies and the new possibilities of satellite television and the internet.
I expect that we will be stuck with a Koran belt in Europe. If I compare that to the Dutch Bible Belt then that consists of less than 5 percent of the population. The Bible Belt is well integrated and I do not see why the same should not happen with Muslims living here for a few generations (and we now the third generation is entering tertiary education already). Of course we may see acts of terrorism, although so far the organisational talent is lacking. I have no idea why that is.
If you claim that American educational decline is mainly due to a "rotten education system and its bland corporate media", then why is the rot gone further in the sweet water states of the interior? I still like the idea that increasing income disparity plays some role in this. If you look up the lemma Bible Belt, then you find such areas in a number of areas. Missing to my surprise are the Afrikaners and the Alsatians. All these areas share the uncertainties of a frontier society. Now what is the frontier element in American Midwest?
As for music from the time of Vermeer, you may appreciate Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck, the organist of Amsterdam's Old Church, which is now in the centre of the Red Ligt District, and Count Unico Willem van Wassenaer. It saves you a trip to London.
Haven't seen neither the original nor the remake of Get Carter. Your trailer looks great though. A man of few words, out of Michael Caine's mouth ...
Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck's nice clear sound is still deep in renaissance tradition. Vermeer's ladies would probably have played something more contemporary, but not a piece from van Wassenaer as he is born only twenty years after Vermeer died.
Huxley's quip about oxygen deprivation to curtail intelligence is practiced in the US by bad nutrition: Half of America's children experience food insecurity during their life. Bill Moyers just had an excellent show about the terrible state of hunger in the United States. 1980, there were 200 food banks in the US, now there are 40.000. America's working families are hurting while Versailles on the Potomac dances.
The terrible results of US schools is a toxic mix of unequal local taxes, a lumbering bureaucracy, inflexible unions, meddling politicians and overworked parents.
There will be no Koran belt in Europe. Most Turks are actually quite secular and love most Western sins (especially firewater, one of the key triggers of the demonstrations in Istanbul). The religiosity expressed by conservative Turks is mostly of the kind seen of US Christians, an identity marker and fashion statement. Just like the US war on Xmas, Turkish religious fanatics have to create their "scandals": In Vienna, one religious weirdo representative of the Turkish community tried to have the Lego Star Wars Jabba the Hut fortress set banned because its distant resemblance to a mosque would insult his faith.
Sorry, yesterday I wrote the entry with some intervals, and I had missed your latest message.
I hope our online future will not end in a virtual Disneyland with "free speech zones" and Orwellian network hygiene
The future is now. In Amsterdam an institution of higher learning asks its staff and students to confirm in writing that they will not report about the school anonymously and/or negatively on the internet. These schools are like corporations, with large real estate investments, lots of management and doubtlessly consultants wit Powerpoint presentations full of powerful buzzwords and other management porn.
Large scale Turkish immigration (in contrast to temporary workers) actually only took place since the early 1980s - triggered by a failed German bureaucratic effort to save money.
I recall these days also as ideologically charged. It was not done to put integration demands upon immigrants. And the young were given extra lessons not in learning the language of the new country, but in the language of the country were they were from. The people who lived in the areas with large numbers of immigrants were quickly charged with discrimination; it is one of the main causes for current right-wing populism. Things have changed since the 1980's. Society has become less tolerant of lots of things: tax evasion, abuse of welfare, smoking in public places, the primacy of religious rights over others (think resistance to same-sex marriage), and certainly also lacking integration of new immigrants.
True, Sweelinck and Van Wassenaer did not really compose during Vermeer's life. They are however the two composers that remain known today. I could not get you any music that was a better match. And if you look at paintings by Jan Steen, 17th century music may not always have been as serene as a Vermeer painting.
Food banks are not only a feature of America. You can find them here too, despite extensive social security. This research (not in English, unfortunately) claims that there are multiple reasons that there still are food banks. Those who operate food banks do not discriminate very strictly, it is often used by illegal aliens and there are people with multiple issues that have problem finding their way in society or are heavily indebted. Some 6,500 people depend on food banks in the Netherlands, and that number may have risen materially now that the economic crisis starts tot bite. Equally there are children that go to school without breakfast and there have been plans by certain schools to start providing that. I do not think that the cause is lack of money, but rather a lack of knowledge and lack of discipline. Social bonds have grown weaker and new immigrants lack the healthier native traditions. But even then: the problem may have always existed. Anyway, this is nothing exclusively American and again does not explain the regional differences in the Home of the Brave and the disgust of the state in areas that most depend upon it. Education will certainly be important. The fact that many Americans need multiple jobs just to pay health bills caused by an unhealthy lifestyle too. But would that be regional?
I think you are underestimating the diversity among European Muslims. Muslims in Germany and Austria are indeed mostly of Turkish origin, but it is different elsewhere. In Britain the majority are from South Asia (Pakis, Bengals, Indians) and in Holland, Belgium and France you have lots of Maghrebians too. Turks live almost everywhere, as do Somalians. The Muslims from the former Dutch Guyana (Hindustani and Indonesians) are completely integrated. Although there are two Surinamese mosques in Amsterdam that I am aware of (one brand new), I doubt if religiosity among this group is much higher than among the native population. The wording Koran Belt is probably not that correct, given that Muslims can now be found in most smaller towns too, not unlike Jews before the Second World War. But the orientation on the Middle East and the lifestyle changes that have occurred in the Islamic world make me expect that a part of European Muslims will remain very conservative for at least a few generations. And contemplate the following: in the Islamic world traditional beliefs are mixture of Islam (Koran, hadith, fiqh) and ancient "superstitions" (and in Asia remnants of Hinduism and other beliefs). In a way a stricter form of Islam that follows Islamic rules from books is a form of modernisation. Which does not mean that the Islam propagated by the Gulf States is a disaster.
Yes, quite a few Turks enjoy their Raki and/or their Efes beer, but most do not. Turks smoke rather than drink. Smoking is haram for the Salafi, but permissible in more mainstream Islamic ideologies. There seems to be no specific reason for the Taksim protests, except that lots of people seem to dislike Erdogan's heavy handedness. This document is again only in Dutch unfortunately (Google Chrome can translate for people interested), but it gives an interesting analysis of how the Turkish state tries to maintain a grip on even the fourth generation of emigrants. The majority of mosques aiming at Turkish Muslims is supplied with civil servants working for the Turkish state. In the past when Turkey was run by generals that promoted the laïcité (in a strange way) everybody was quite content with how they channeled any fringe religious ideas. Nowadays these civil servants will have to toe Erdogan's line.
And yes, we have Muslim students that protest the teaching of the evolution theory at Amsterdam's Protestant Free University (!). But isn't ostentatious behaviour a form of youthful rebellion? There is little else that still upsets the Dutch mainstream. It will mostly wither away.
At this time, protesting against evolution is like protesting against gravity or seeking equal protection for phlogiston. It is sad that universities have to deal with such basic stuff. Learning is a hard, individual process. The continued widespread prevalence of smoking in the second and third world is not encouraging. Vienna is again on the front line (with tough but ignored anti-smoking laws).
While interesting as a social commentary, I really dislike the aesthetics of Jan Steen. I prefer Vermeer, the calm painter of the rich displaying their Worldly Goods. Compared to the often still very empty Baroque palaces of the nobility, Vermeer's paintings are stuffed with "meubles". The piano, one of the must-have's of the bourgeoisie, is on its way out as a tool of conspicuous consumption. Austria's tumbling traditional piano manufacturer Bösendorfer has been bought by Yamaha. What is the current marker of conspicuous consumption in houses? Good expensive media systems are mostly invisible. Giant flat screens are tacky. Out-sized kitchens (and in the US, supernumerary toilets) would grace modern Vermeers.
I am slowly progressing through a new Martin Luther : Rebell in einer Zeit des Umbruchs biography. Like Adolf Hitler (originally Hiedler), Martin Luder changed the soft middle to a sharp t. I wonder whether "Luder" then had the meaning it has now ("slut", ein Lude is German slang for pimp). It is interesting to compare the protestant reformers to the current anti-surveillance state. The early reformers like Jan Hus lacked important protectors and were burned by the powers that be.
Martin Luther did have a network of different protectors and supporters. It is marvelous how he (and his allies) shifted the battleground from religion (academic and institutional), to civil law, to politics, to media/popular opinion. The institutional church was outpaced and outmaneuvered and suffered defeat through better framing. The internet is currently not yet strong enough to shape and press the traditional media to accept a narrative like Luther's pamphlet network or the 18th century's coffee houses did.
Protesting against the evolution theory for religious reasons is another form of demanding the primacy of your religion over all other values. It is a rejection of the Western values of rationality and scientific progress. Would a university need to spend time on this? Not more than the 15 minutes that is spend on "proving" that the earth is a ball and not flat in primary school. Scientific talent should not be wasted on such a fringe subject. If the students do not like it, too bad for them. They should study theology instead of medicine or biology. There are probably obscure institutions in the United States or the Middle East that can accommodate them. I am a bit more tolerant of smoking. What would Paris be without rushed Parisiennes, hastily puffing on a Gauloise Blonde. As long as it is in the street.
I do not think Jan Steen was very interested in aesthetics, except probably when he made this painting. Steen is a typical representative of Low Countries art, where realistic depictions, showing "real life", is more important than showing something beautiful. You will also see it in the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch and the Bruegel family.
It is very obvious that you prefer Vermeer. This thread is a bulwark of a kind of a safe and sound Bürgerlichkeit (your non-fiction books, LolaWalser with her haute littérature and classical music, BarkingMatt with his paintings) that has long gone out of fashion. It is against the spirit of the time. School programmes are based upon the idea that learning should be fun and entertaining, not something that should be hard. Children do "projects", resulting in Powerpoint presentations. They lack a body of overall knowledge. Why know things? After all, since Wikipedia, knowledge is a near valueless good. I have heard people argue that teaching arithmetics is superfluous in the modern age. Teaching writing should be limited to type, because you only use it as an (unstructured) way to enter data into a computer. Traditional knowledge and skills can easily be replaced by ever more detailed SLA's and ISAE 3402 procedures produced by business consultants. They only need limited training and such efficiency translates into cheaper prices.
All this to earn the money to pay for large kitchens, certainly one of the most important status symbols of the last decade. The current economic downturn is disastrous for the salesmen of Poggenpohl and Smeg, however. Expensive clothes never sold really well in a nation used to cycling. Clothes must be practical first (think Jan Steen). Big media systems and most certainly large television players are really for the hoi polloi if I check out the street where I live. Quality sound systems are "old school" for the generations raised on torrented MP3-files. The only thing you cannot do without this year is a Ray Ban. Sunglasses are the right gadget in an economy where consumption has fallen more than 5%, although scooters are also really popular among a generation that remains in the city and does not care much about cars.
I never knew that Martin Luther had changed his name. Luder exists in Dutch without the sexual connotation as loeder. It means "malicious woman". Sometimes such old Germanic words have changed their meaning more in the German heartland than in fringe areas like Austria, Prague (Kafka's German) or Holland. The book seems interesting. I have read other articles about the similarities between the pamphlet network in the 17th century and the internet. Nothing changes really.
Oh yes. I'm fully aware I'm a dinosaur. Even my RayBan is decades old. "Safe and sound" though? ;-)
P.s.: It strikes me though that it are the people who not merely protest against the evolution theory, but against the fact that it is being taught, are the real dinosaurs.
Here at the former iron curtain, the ubiquity of fake brand sunglasses, bags and watches hardly make them good differentiators.
I'm not sure whether you'd like the Luther biography, as it concentrates itself on the small world of Saxony within Germany. Luther wasn't a big traveler like Erasmus or Petrarca. Otherwise, he might have found a better cuisine to solve his constant and most German of problems, constipation. Luther also didn't say "Here I stand; I can do none other, so help me God." The forceful "Here I stand" is an insertion of a partisan reporter to Luther's determined but not hostile firmness to Charles V's demand for repentance at Worms 1521.
I do love Hieronymus Bosch and the Bruegels. I don't like the ambiguity of grotesqueness in Steen and Hals as their realism is at the edge of Bacon's Zerrissenheit (disruption). The art of grotesque self-parody is alive across the pond where that tribute to ignorance attracts a quarter of a million visitors a year.
Oh, no shame being outed as a member of the bourgeoisie, though apparently my reading puts me clearly on the lowest rungs, especially as I devour too much military history (which occupies the same academic status as pornography according to Allen C. Guelzo's introduction to his own Gettysburg: The Last Invasion). Rembrandt's members of the nightwatch were the original Spießbürger (pike-armed citizen militia). The wonder years of the bourgeoisie, ruling their countries by around 20 percent of its citizens, is coming to an end. I can't see neither a Marxian proletarian revolution nor Wolin's Democracy incorporated as good descriptions of our interesting times.
The diversion of the plane of Bolivia's president to Vienna gave the US ambassador to Austria to do a bit of actual diplomacy. Regular US ambassadorships to Austria are landlocked cruise ship tours with free booze and food for fat cat donors.
It is really sad how easy the two of you give in to a challenge. This way you never get a discussion about a smart approach of modernity. Of course it is easier to bash creationism. As I am living in a country where certain BBC wildlife documentaries are censored, because some fringe groups are still followers of these outmoded ideas, I think I'd better keep silent. I have never understood the Christian love for documentaries about the African savannas. Of course it is beautiful, but it is all based on the concept of eat or be eaten, which seems rather un-Christian to me. I should ask one of my colleagues, who votes for the SGP (a party with such outlandish demands as the death penalty; it also expects it female supporters not to vote themselves), but who is otherwise a most decent chap . I don't even think he supports creationism.
I have no idea why military history should have the same academic status as pornography, besides that pornography seems to me a perfectly decent subject to study. The study of the great tank battles of the twentieth century may be tad decadent, given its limited relevance for current warfare, but you can certainly learn lessons from other conflicts, particularly colonial wars. Somewhere early last year I counted four military conflicts that a country like France was involved in. They were all in third world countries and often had a guerrilla component. Guerrilla wars are ever more difficult to fight, because they automatically lead to war crimes that will televised and that harm Western powers more than the challengers.
Are the wonder years of the bourgeoisie over? Wouldn't Bill Gates be a very typical member of the bourgeoisie: first an entrepreneur and now the philanthropist with the world's largest budget? In Europe it might be somewhat different. Taxes and the high costs of housing in certain countries have certainly reduced the financial power of the middle classes. But when they manage or influence government budgets they can still get their way in many cases. So in terms of influence on the development of society the bourgeoisie is doing quite well. Its Bildungsideal however is as dead as a dodo. But was it sustainable? The sciences have moved into ever greater detail and hard sciences require ever more mathematics to understand. In the visual arts everything that is accepted by the in-crowd is "good art". It is all based upon the story the artist tells. Improvising your way into knowledge of paintings, etc. is impossible. Modern classical music often requires long periods of exposure to appreciate it. It is no longer possible to know and understand this. The renaissance man is a thing of the past. Overall, however, what I read about Wolin's Democracy incorporated seems to describe the current world than any dialectic Marxist analysis. In the FT Martin Wolf referred to an interesting view of modern industrial organisation in the book Is China Buying the World?:
The world economy has been transformed, he argues, by the emergence, through mergers, acquisition and foreign direct investment, of a limited number of dominant businesses, almost entirely rooted in advanced countries.
At the heart of the new global economy are what Prof Nolan calls “systems integrator” companies – businesses with dominant brands and superior technologies, which are at the apex of value chains that serve the global middle classes. These global businesses, in turn, exert enormous pressure on their supply chains, creating ever-rising consolidation there, as well.
We can now see the organisation of global production and distribution under the aegis of the integrator company. Such a business “typically possesses some combination of a number of key attributes, among them the capability to raise finance for large new projects and the resources necessary to fund a high level of research and development spending to sustain technological leadership, to develop a global brand, to invest in state-of-the-art information technology and to attract the best human resources”.
Moreover, “one hundred giant firms, all from the high-income countries, account for over three-fifths of the total R&D expenditure among the world’s top 1,400 companies. They are the foundation of the world’s technical progress in the era of capitalist globalisation”.
I am interested in that Luther book, although I doubt I am going to read it anytime soon. Your description about the influence of pamphlets triggered me foremost. But now that Germany becomes more dominant in (northern) Europe it becomes more important to learn a bit more about them. Hence, I was quite content to find the book Germania: In Wayward Pursuit of the Germans and Their History on sale. Written by a Brit, it is probably full of amusing prejudices. Germany is still not a sexy subject.
By the way, how much Schadenfreude did you experience reading this?
Greg Mankiw, a Harvard University professor who advised Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is owed $1.6 million in royalties, according to the bankruptcy filing.
"it also expects it female supporters not to vote themselves" - Don't they vote at all or is the cross on the ballot made for them by their husbands? The first variant sounds very self-defeating, the second was the implicit assumption prior to women's suffrage in Switzerland.
William Henry Gates III is no bourgeois but a member of the US aristocracy which allowed him to sell a product he didn't have to IBM. It is nice that Bill cares about India and Africa. His money would be better spent in changing the US, though, as so much that doesn't work in the world can be traced back to stupid US policies (such as destroying local agriculture in Somalia by flooding the markets with free US food aid). Bill Gates is also very quiet regarding the current regressive US tax policy. If you look at what he is reading, most of it is libertarian and conventional drivel. Bill no longer is the evil man he used to be. Paulus, he ain't.
"Systems integrator", a fancy name for an old concept. Siemens, Philips or General Motors did this for decades if not centuries. While these companies produce some innovations (Gillette's Mach3), the most radical innovations come from outside and are fought tooth and nail by those "integrators". Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple are currently trying to kill off open standards in the internet to become even greater "integrators".
I mused whether to pick up Germania: In Wayward Pursuit of the Germans and Their History or its sister book about Austria but decided against it. Firstly, Brits lack the necessary framing to understand German society as much of its characteristics (language not as a class marker, decentralized power, ...). The intro naturally starts with Wagner and Hitler, a mad British obsession. I wouldn't trust the author about history either as he is unaware about the difference between a palace (Schloss) and a castle (Burg). A castle is fortified, its purpose defensive while a palace serves to represent and entertain. The distinction is very clear in German and English. Where it gets complicated is French (a language the author self-admittedly did not manage to learn): château vs château fort (with the second part often dropped). There must be Dutch authors with a much keener understanding of Germany.
How does a textbook publisher amass $5.8 billion of debt? You don't exactly need chip factories to print and warehouse books. That Mankiw likes to align himself with incompetent people isn't exactly news. Neither is the fraudulent textbook scam that drains the blood of US students.
Paul R. Krugman is no saint either and sucks students dry as well: His International Economics: Theory and Policy (9th Edition) is available for the little sum of 155 USD at Amazon. Its Loose Leaf Student Value Edition (9th Edition) is available for the bargain price of 122 USD (discounted from 145 USD). Somehow, Great Britain sells the same book bound as a softcover for 80 USD. Germany manages to translate the book and add hardcover binding to sell it for 65 USD (incl. 17% VAT). Given that international trade is part of Paul's specialty, someone should produce a Paul Krugman Textbooks Big Mac index.
The US government (or Bill Gates) should spend 10-20 million dollars to produce copyright free college courses for the most common subjects. The benefits would be stellar, saving each student at least 60 to 70 dollars per text.
The academic scandal of the week is CUNY's hiring of David Petraeus to "teach" some non-sense courses for a select few for 200.000 USD. The course description is one of the most moronic and Dilbertesque sentences I have ever read: "In this interdisciplinary seminar, students will examine in depth and then synthesize the history and trends in diverse public policy topics with a view towards recommendations for America’s leadership role in the emerging global economy."
A syllabus for the course Are We on the Threshold of the North American Decade has not yet been produced. I'd start with The tipping point, as the world keeps on turning and pivoting and shifting, except when it is flat: The world is flat given that a decade is only 20 Friedman Units. His other work, Hot, flat and crowded which I always read as "hot, fat and crowded", is relevant too. In this constricted place, America needs to use its elbows to get more Lebensraum and sustain its global leadership by getting (All In: The Education of General David Petraeus to the foreign leaders who control that choice black liquid.
Finally, we need a book about careless people: The Great Gatsby. If these students will learn anything from the master, it is the art of Bullshit. Meanwhile, his partner in disgrace, Stanley McChrystal (specialty: black ops, torture and lies) teaches leadership at Yale.
Supposedly, women mandate their husbands (and/or fathers?) to vote for the orthodox SGP. The SGP considers itself a getuigenispartij a “testimonial party”: more interested in expressing its beliefs than in raw power. However, the fragmentation of the political centre increases its influence. On the other hand, Moses does have some influence over Aaron too:
The European Court of Human rights in Strasburg on Friday rejected an appeal by the fundamentalist Christian party SGP, which says women should not be allowed to hold political office.
The SGP took its case to the European Court after the Dutch supreme court ruled in 2010 the party must allow women to stand for election and that the state has a duty to ensure they have this right in practice. The party has two seats in the 150-seat Dutch parliament and receives €800,000 in government support a year.
Quid pro quo: I outed you as a bourgeois, I have to accept you frame me as a libertarian. I have read at least 20% of what Bill Gates has been reading. Many of these books struck me as interesting when I read the review in the Financial Times. You do not always have to agree with an opinion to consider it interesting. I disagree with you that Mr. Gates should spend his money in America. He earned his money globally, so it seems fair put your money to work on a global scale also. If he finances clean water or the development of vaccines against tropical diseases he probably optimises the welfare effects on a global scale. America is rich enough itself: it can solve its own problems. You do have a point with free food aid, however (which is likely a hidden subsidy to American farmers anyway).
Thank you for reminding that system integrators are an old phenomenon. Still, there is something new, I suppose: the link between a company and the products it produces is very weak nowadays. The products they make are now standardised on a global (think the car industry with such unlikely alliances like Nissan - Renault), giving them greater influence than before. This gives multinational companies greater bargaining power over employees and governments and allows them to spend an ever increasing amount of attention to simply moving cash flows around. Spatially, you can see this Amsterdam where multinational head offices are concentrating in a small area of bankers, lawyers, auditors and consultants, rather than close to their operating companies, factories or design centres.
University text books are indeed ridiculously expensive in the developed world. One of my friends used to go to India to buy his text books there. They were so much cheaper there that he had his flight ticket for free. In the past I have also picked up some books outside of Europe for a fraction of the price, even in such rich places like Singapore. And Paul Krugman is simply another expensive salesman in opinions. He demanded 130 thousand dollars for a one-hour speech in the Hague. That puts him in the same league as what Tim Geithner received for speeches from the owners of Taunus Corporation. Or indeed David Petraeus.
The poor, poor European Court of Human Rights, inundated by caseload. If only they could kick out such weirdo cases and deal with the important ones. I did not expect such religious fundamentalists in the Dutch parliament. Even the most conservative Christians in the Swiss, Austrian and German parliament are rather tame. In Austria, their main issue is keeping shops closed on Sundays (loopholed by train station shopping and brisk shopping tourism across the border).
I would never frame anybody as a libertarian, as there is no such animal. Libertarian is just code for hedonistic conservative. You also look at the numbers and reality whereas Libertarians hold to their beliefs about being supermen with perfect information. Faced with a heart attack, a Libertarian will shop for the best treatment. Or hand out guns to morons because only the freedom to shoot people boosts the self-esteem of cowards. No, reality isn't kind to Libertarian ideas.
"America is rich enough itself: it can solve its own problems." A former US President disagrees (and I tend to concur, although I don't like Carter. His ineffectiveness made Reagan possible.): Amerika hat derzeit keine funktionierende Demokratie ("US democracy is broken at the moment."). America is certainly rich enough and it is its super-rich which cause much of its problems. Pillar by pillar of the open society is weakened or cut down by ingrate plutocrats.
I suspect that Bill Gates has also given up on the US and is directing his money to where effective change is possible. While his efforts are great, eradication of problem no. 1 in those deprived areas just promotes problem no. 2. Less miserable lives in the Third World are still pretty miserable. The world's poor overwhelmingly live in areas negatively impacted by climate change whose biggest contributor still is the US (with China catching up fast). Still, it is sad that Chinese cars are built to tougher standards than American ones. As with the self-inflicted obesity problem (subventions to high-fructose), socially offset carbon tax would push market-based innovations.
The problem with Bill Gates' reading is that it is not challenging. Standard fare for the elderly readers of the New York Times style section. His appetite for the staid output of US corporate media stenographers is especially sad, the richest man on earth still needing to suck up to Tom "Suck on this" Friedman (at least Bill refrained from writing a review, so perhaps he didn't actually read Friedman's book). I wish Bill Gates would work together with Bill Moyers, but then again, The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger is conspicuously missing among Bill's selection.
By the way, Nissan - Renault and Chrysler - Fiat were actually alliances/mergers out of weakness because they were beaten in the market place by the German car manufacturers and Toyota. While the building of large corporate HQs (campus) continues, especially by the tech and internet giants, I think that these behemoths are detrimental to value creation as it tends to create inward looking bureaucracies only loosely to the far away markets. Many of their 19th century predecessors' industrial HQ carcasses have been successfully re-purposed as residential or office parks.
Instead of closing this museum, they should celebrate its fakedness, a Chinese tribute to the knock-off and copy.
The influence on “lifestyle issues” of the orthodox is quite limited, and indeed focusses on maintaining outdated anti-cursing law and keeping shops closed on Sunday outside tourist areas (which includes the centres of the Amsterdam and Rotterdam). This summer lull they agitated against making measles vaccination mandatory. Dutch tax law also has some exemptions for people who do not want to have health insurance, but don’t ask me for details. The SGP gets 2-3 seats in Parliament, which is the equivalent of about 2% of the population. There is also the Christenunie, whose leadership is conservative in social matters, but far more left-leaning in economic policy (and not necessarily reflecting all of their supporters). I think orthodox Calvinists make up less than five percent of the population. That has been stable for a long time. The same percentage will apply to the Jewish community. Catholicism may be a bit stronger in maintaining formal membership, but you rarely hear about conservative Catholics as an organised group. I see no reason why the number of orthodox Muslims would be much higher than 5 percent when integration will be completed in 25 years. Dutch Muslims will be averagely educated Westerners, not first generation literates raised with the prejudices of the near-Medieval countryside of the Maghreb or central Anatolia. And this taking into account that Islam, like Judaism, is more of a rule-based religion than Christianity: it pays off, and is relatively easy for the elderly, to follow the rules more strictly. Most importantly, as long as they remain such a small minority they will be mostly harmless.
Libertarianism seems a luxury few societies can afford, and the intellectual basis for it is questionable indeed. Here again I find it useful to look back at the harsher times of the Dutch Republic. Jonathan Israel estimates in The Dutch Republic : Its Rise, Greatness, and Fall 1477-1806 that in the 17th century before social security over 10% of the population depended upon welfare. It was simply organised differently. The burgomasters forced the delivery and funding of social security upon the churches, even upon the formally illegal Catholic church, as you can see from this rather splendid former Catholic orphanage. It seems bigger than the offices of the East India Company, the era’s largest multinational. The 10% upon welfare was seen as a matter of public order in a time of far rougher justice. It also left some social security at the expense of the city: Israel does not give figures, but indicates that a large number of citizens was at least agnostic.
You have not convinced me regarding Bill Gates’ philanthropy. Actually, on a much lower level I do the same as Bill. I support orphanages in Indonesia and helped pay for a public library in a poor area. First of all, I get more bang for my buck by spending it in such a country. Secondly, I help the very poor who have few alternatives. And thirdly, I help the establishment (or maintenance) of a civil society in a corrupt environment. It is simply money collected by volunteers who visit people at home (through personal contacts, in a very Asian manner). E.g. that public library was run by volunteering university graduates who gave kids drawing lessons but needed paper and pencils and a few books. And the orphanages give a decent live to kids with a mental illness, so that they are not treated like this. Could I spend my money better on another Ronald McDonald House in the Netherlands? I do not think so. Obviously, if deprived areas solve the most basic issues they are “promoted” to problem area 2, but should that mean that they never get out of problem area 1? If you raise the income of the world’s poorest, you do probably more for greater income equality than by sponsoring another American think tank. America has plenty of “liberal” institutions already and powerful “liberal” political players. Inequality has always been an element of US society, with its roots in British class society.
The campuses of American tech companies may have more to do with them being fat cats who borrow money to pay for dividends so they can avoid taxation:
Apple will avoid a potential tax bill of up to $9bn by using the proceeds from its $17bn blockbuster bond issue to pay shareholders rather than bringing back cash from abroad.
It may also be typical for the tech industry. You find them here too.
We continued refurbishing our campus in Veldhoven, to make it greener and create safer and quieter spaces where employees can spend time outdoors. We reduced traffic at the heart of the campus, replacing car parking spaces with parking lots for bicycles, and green zones where employees can sit and interact with colleagues. Car traffic and parking were transferred to the periphery of the campus. To improve logistical efficiency on campus we plan to invest in the refurbishment of the logistics building, which will divert part of suppliers’ transport to outside the campus.
And yes, ASML also strives to be a monopolist:
ASML has an effective monopoly on EUV, a developing technology that will enable even smaller, cheaper chips
Most other Dutch multinationals do not have big campuses. In most cases they no longer even have their own head offices on their balance sheets, but increasingly rent (a part of) an office tower within one kilometre of Amsterdam’s southern railway station, which is at 11 minutes from the airport. That airport is always claimed to be very important in the choice of office space, but that does not explain why they all want to be close to the southern railway station. There is cheaper office space around other stations, including at the same distance to the airport. Prestige may be one reason. Offices are small. ING has its own building (I do not know who owns it), which has office space for about 500 staff. ING is now quickly downsizing but still had 87K staff in 2012. The building houses controllers, lawyers and auditors. Philips bases itself near another railway station, in somewhat easier reach of Eindhoven, still the centre of many operational and R&D activities. Its head office in Amsterdam is situated in the Breitner Tower (named after the painter indeed), and also houses some 500 staff. It takes 1.5 hours by train to get to Eindhoven. AKZO Nobel, the chemicals and paint producer has around 450 staff close to the southern railway station, whereas its roots are in Arnhem near the border to Germany. It seems you need around 500 staff to run a multinational.
I do not see what is wrong with fakes in museums. Particularly former university collections in the West have copies of antiquities. Much great Western art is already in museums and will hardly get on the market again. If this helps to raise the interest in art and culture, why not? The waste of public funding in China is another matter, and these articles were an interesting example.
Brits lack the necessary framing to understand German society as much of its characteristics
Here is another fine example of how the British intelligentsia describes itself, rather than Germany:
I see a paradise for cyclists, where the helmetless hordes weave and wobble over the wide and tree-lined roads, and a Mercedes supercar will wait deferentially for a family to wander past his purring snout. The most serious public order problem at the moment is the tendency of Berliners to pursue the logic of their Freikörpeskultur by actually fornicating in their many magnificent parks; and such is the climate of political correctness that they decided to means-test the fines. So if you are caught in flagrante in the bushes, and you have a job, you get fined 150 euros — but only 34 euros if you are unemployed. If that isn’t broad-mindedness, I don’t know what is.
Are there better Dutch experts on Germany? I doubt it. The Dutch don’t find their biggest trading partner interesting. The America-centric age is not yet over.
Sorry for the silence, I've been traveling and vacationing. I've seen the wonderful if expensive (20 EUR) Qin exhibition in Bern, Switzerland. 2 EUR per terracotta warrior ... Given that China has over 8000 terracotta warriors, it should permanently station groups of them as cultural ambassadors on every continent.
Coursera's MOOC A New History for a New China, 1700-2000: New Data and New Methods is both interesting and bizarre. The Hong Kong university professor's focus is preaching not discussion, partly due to the classic Asiatic student-teacher model where the student's task is to regurgitate by rote the master's wisdom, partly because discussion might crack the professor's idea of Chinese superiority which in his lectures is defeating the straw men of the weak and decadent West. Little mishaps like missing data for the 1988/9 Tiananmen students are subtly ignored.
The multiple-choice tests demand from the students to reproduce the professor's correct ideological answers. Half-way through, I still have a perfect score - by not answering correctly but what the professor's ideology identifies as correct. A strange brainwashing process ...
And actually quite irrelevant. The professor's message that Chinese university entrance exams are quite egalitarian happens to be true. The real competition starts much earlier in getting into the correct feeder highschool, as the following documentary shows: PBS Wide Angle: China Prep.
While the majority of the Chinese are looking to improving their lives and making more money, the unchecked jingoistic indoctrination may become quite dangerous. The little emperors are growing up with a quite erroneous idea about a West in decline and a belief in Chinese superiority not unlike the pre-WWII Japanese.
Your link to the Torygraph did not warn me enough to prevent being hit by the inanities of London's mayor who seems to travel abroad to confirm his prejudices. It is difficult to understand the Anglo-American conservative aversion to bikes, especially in a more or less flat country like England. Biking in Oxford and Cambridge is simply wonderful.
Boris is also wrong about Berlin being "the capital of a united Germany — the heart of what is by far the most important economic power in Europe". Berlin is the political capital, the German economic engines are in Southern Germany, Frankfurt and Hamburg - but this would require to look at the world through a non-London/UK frame. It wouldn't be a British publication, if it didn't misspell at least one German word: It is Freikörperkultur not Freikörpeskultur.
Meanwhile across the pond, Larry Summers is actually in the running for Fed chairman. Summers (and George Bush) have broken the Peter principle in being, again and again, promoted despite have displayed copiously their level of incompetence. In American Civil War terms, Summers reminds me of Braxton Bragg who mismanaged his subordinates and lost battle after battle but was a good buddy of Confederate president Jefferson Davis. In contrast, Lincoln painfully learned to kick out underperforming generals.
The other man from Illinois, who also seems to work mostly for the Republicans, touts the "middle class" jobs of Amazon warehouse minimum wage temp workers. A brave new world.
I am currently reading Eugene Rogan's The Arabs: a history which actually starts around 1500 and turbocharges to the 20th century in the first 200 pages. It is thus an excellent continuation of Hourani's classic A history of the Arab peoples, which focuses on the early years. I picked up both side by side in a used bookstore.
Time flies when you are having fun. And before you know it more than three weeks have gone since the last message. Apologies on my side too.
The time gave me the opportunity to think about status symbols beyond aviator glasses. I came up with two, although they might be quite specific for Amsterdam and for a certain age category: young parents. Both seem also more or less local inventions. First of all, there are the Bugaboo strollers. And then there are the carrier cycles that clog the pavements of the city. There are quite a few brands, but most are local (e.g. Bakfiets.NL). These are exceptionally useful to express social status, because they are as superfluous as they are expensive and you can show off as a caring parent. As long as you do not make your Filipina au-pair ride this MILF-magnet, of course. Anyway, I wonder how long they will last as status symbols. Crates on the front of your bicycle (particularly from Fietsfabriek) were also an affordable sign of healthy city living, but I have already seen them used by the first headscarved Moroccan mothers. As I saw a Moroccan drive a Smart car. Integration goes much faster than the right-wing populists pretend.
I am afraid I made a mess out of my application for "A New History of China. After my application I found out that the first lecture was already deleted from the webpage. I then did not view any of the other lessons. You no doubt passed. But the Asian rot learning system is well equiped for internet study. It requires little interaction between students and teachers, so you can offer it as a bulk product, the students being the bulk. I understand that some lectures at Dutch university are already sent to universities in Asia. That the Little Emperors grow up with unrealistic ideas about China's past is probably less of a problem than you might fear. I doubt if they have much inclination to join the army. It is the same in Singapore, that still has a draft, partly because it is used for nation building in this multi-racial society. I do not know if this is still the case, but Singapore had a relatively large group of Israeli advisors to their army. Which was useful, if only because the soldiers were afraid to land or stay overnight on certain "spooked" islets. What I find more interesting is the changing role of women in Chinese society. Their increasing importance goes way beyond what has happened in Korea and Japan.
As another development, I may soon tell you more about my appreciation of Le Corbu. I have recently visited his Maison La Roche in Paris.I hope to spend some time in the south of France later this month and then I shall certainly go to Marseille and make the pilgrimage to l'Unité d'Habitation. The Maison La Roche is a nice and modest McMansion, and inside not really that big. It is very much like the Huis Sonneveld in Rotterdam, that we discussed earlier. Even if you do not like the style of architecture, it is still interesting to compare the 1930's elite's housing to the current elite. These are immodest days.
Ah yes, I should read more. I am trying to reduce the time I spent on photography on the internet and get back to reading. The only good thing about (digital) photography is that it is cheap, no mean feat in a country where purchasing power went down 5% in the last few years. I am sure you have finished your Arab history by now, I still have a history of Beirut waiting for me. I really hope things in Syria will settle soon. The Middle East is in a mess as it has never been before.
Haven't these strollers - like the iPhone - already been adopted by a good part of the population?
My subversive edge kept me at a score of 99% in picking the socially desired answer demanded by the Chinese professor. As the saying goes, "correct" is what is grades as correct. The weirdest aspect is that a course that relies heavily on social statistics is based on an extremely flawed understanding of basic statistics: The professor's finding that the largest group of victims of the Chinese revolution were peasants (which is true) needs to be corrected for the fact that the overwhelming number of Chinese at that time were peasants (i.e. control for statistical population).
Overall, I did not expect a Hong Kong professor to show such mainland assimilated "gleichgeschaltet" points of view and to use an approach where discussion = repetition and acceptance of the professor's opinion. Given the MOOC setting where the incentive is a pdf certificate worth squat, I doubt the professor's marketing approach of his ideas was very effective.
Then again, Barack Obama will probably nominate Larry Summers, so the "damn the torpedoes, full spead ahead" approach is successful in real life (especially if the torpedoes damage or sink other boats). In Germany, meanwhile, Angela Merkel has shown herself as a good pupil of her teacher Kanzler Kohl: She will win the election by not moving. In yesterday's TV duel, Peer Steinbrück more or less signaled his future career of giving expensive speeches for corporations, as Merkel's CDU can either continue to govern with FDP (if it manages to stay above 5%) or enter into a coalition with SPD (sans Steinbrück).
The Maison La Roche seems to be optimized for cleaning purposes not human interaction. I have found Marseille probably the ghastliest city I have been to (not helped by the fact that some youth were just trying to break into our car when we returned to the parking lot. Thankfully, their ineptness did not result in any damage to the car). The new Museum of Civilisations from Europe and the Mediterranean (MuCEM) looks nice though.
"The Middle East is in a mess as it has never been before." Actually, one lesson from my reading of The Arabs (currently at page 400 at the start of the 1960s) is how much the old problems are still with us - from the French practice of sending an artillery barrage into unruly compounds in Syria to the Iraqi torture at Abu Ghraib. It is amazing how young most Arab states actually are. The first attempts of governance were stifled by the now dying crop of dictator generals and their successors. The big question is whether they can develop a non-violent means of cooperation among the different communities, a civil society.
Paul Krugman recently quoted and promoted Peter Turchin's ideas about empires. I started reading War and Peace and War but am not quite as happy as Paul. Firstly, the author displays a double Russian and US chauvinism with lots of wrong statements. The action pieces also paper over the rather thin theory (which, in any case, fits his ideas to the few data points and calls it confirmation).
Much more enjoyable is Riddle of the Labyrinth: The Quest to Crack an Ancient Code about two 1950s nerds deciphering Linear B. Their early deaths makes it a hard sale for the general public.
Just before I leave for the south of France, here's another message. I am sorry to hear that you found Marseille "the ghastliest city" you have visited. Have you ever been to Cairo? That was my ghastliest city (with Charleroi and Brighton still on the list of places to visit, but with Calcutta and Delhi ticked off). Cairo is a city falling apart, not just in its Medieval core, but even in the better neighbourhoods. I was very disappointed. Somehow I am looking forward to Marseille.
The Maison La Roche seems certainly optimised for cleaning purposes. But has that to do with the architecture, or with the lack personal objects? E.g. the library on the first floor is empty of books and art, unlike the situation when the flat was inhabited. The Maison wasn't as devoid of objects as what you see in modern housing magazines. The first owner had the flat tailor made, with the purpose of holding parties and showing his art collection. By the way, in Paris I bought Paris: Quinze promenades sociologiques, which is a nice book for flâner. It contains an outline of various areas in the city with a very short suggested itinerary. It is obviously theproduct of two bobos. Not only do they stay within the Boulevard Périphérique, they also express a rather old-fashioned anti-capitalistic ideology. For foreigners, that is interesting in itself.
Obviously, the mess in the Middle East is partly the same as ever, but there are some very disturbing long term trends. One of them is the the Christian Exodus, which follows on an earlier Jewish Exodus:
At the start of World War I, the Christian population of the Middle East may have been as high as 20 percent. Today, it is roughly four percent. Although it is difficult to be exact, there are perhaps 13 million Christians left in the region, and that number has likely fallen further, given the continued destabilization of Syria and Egypt, two nations with historically large Christian populations.
Secondly, it seems much of the more populous countries of the Middle East (who do not have oil) have not seen a period rising economic wealth in the last 100 years, unlike East Asia or South America. There isn't even a reason to dream of progress. And then of course there are the various forms of Islamism that are fuelled by oil wealth and the incompetence of the first generations of post-colonial leaders. These Islamists proof to be even more incompetent IErdogan being somewhat an exception, although I would not be surprised if they are going to find Greek statistical results in a later stage), plus that they combine that with higher levels of intolerance. The dictators still protect the minorities (as dictators often do, note the role of the Chinese in Southeast Asia).
Larry Summers has left the race for leading the FED, which may be good for our purchasing power whenever we intend to holiday in the US, or buy products that are materially cheaper Stateside (e.g. Photoshop software is sold for a lower number of USD than EUR and then there is the exchange rate). You may enjoy this article despite the authoress:
The good news is that the chance of another full-blown banking crisis has receded: some of the crazier innovations have been reined in, banks are better capitalised and financiers more cautious. But the bad news is that the system is just as insane – perhaps more so.
As for income distribution, the Dutch central bank recently issued an analysis of income distribution, which showed that the rise in productivity over the last decade fully ended up in the pockets of employers and... the state coffers. Citizen's incomes after inflation have not improved, although rising house prices created an impression of increasing wealth that is now coming down quickly. On the other hand, the piece of the pie that labour obtained in the second half of the 20th century was exceptionally high according to this study. It would be interesting to see what the effect of this high percentage of labour income was on economic growth.
As for new books to read, the latest Frank Dikötter about The Tragedy of Liberation: A History of the Chinese Revolution 1945-1957 seems an interesting one again.
Nope, Cairo is still missing on my bucket list. It is all a game of expectations. The times gone by tristesse of Brighton, Ostend and the Viennese Prater can be nostalgic. Cleaned up Charleroi I found bland but nice, most other Belgian towns have more history.
I have too many books to finish, especially the two about the Levant, to pick up one about Paris. It reminds me that I also haven't finished Kafka in Paris. I did, however, mousewalk in Google Streetview the tour of the villas of the 16e which ends at the Radio France bobbin. Not having the social commentary, I found the route rather bland (and not worth my usually limited time in Paris). I have put the authors' academic book about the sociology of Paris on my TBR list.
The Christian exodus in the Levant is probably inevitable. The unholy trade-off of political rights for economic richness, the coalition with the (military) government/dictators against the local poor is unstable in the long run. It also acts as a visible ceiling to local talent (as certain industries and positions are allocated). Globalization also works against their trading networks. Export/import middlemen used to be necessary to do any kind of business. The internet and logistics providers have eroded a good part of their local competitive edge. Their "ambassadorship" is not valued by the market (see also how the two French bookstores in Zurich or the bigger English bookstore in Vienna shut themselves down).
The failure to explore the lack of development in the Arab world is what is missing in Rogan's Arab history. It is a good if tragic account of all the violence occurring (and the trapped repetition of bad behavior). Rushing from one fire to the next, he fails to inform his readers about the structural aspects and problems of the region. As seen again in Syria, there are odd bedfellows on both sides in the conflict. As in things Summers, Barack Obama was prevented from doing harm in Syria. The warmongers at The Economist (safely abed in London and Washington) have doubled down and called for war in Syria for a second time (somebody has to keep those billionaires who advertise therein happy).
Coincidentally, I finally read Chomsky's Manufacturing Consent, whose anniversary edition I picked up used during my last visit in Switzerland. While Chomsky's message that the US corporate media is beholden to Washington and Wallstreet is certainly true, I find it puzzling that he does not look at the key factor why foreign affairs are barely and badly reported in the US: Even the educated public simply does not care what happens abroad. Many can't even keep Iran and Iraq, Austria and Australia, Sweden and Switzerland mentally separate. The public will simply tune out if a reporter presents the latest news from Laos and Cambodia.
There is also a strange Bechdel test failure at play in US reporting about foreign affairs: A story can not be reported without a US angle/protagonist. Foreigners interacting only with foreigners without US involvement will be relegated into the minor notes in the back of the newspaper. The only exceptions are the "foreigners would prefer to be Americans" heartbreaking stories.
Germany has voted (Austria will do so soon). Both countries will end up with grand coalitions between Conservatives and Social Democrats as the minor parties lack the internal consistency (and are unwilling to completely sell out their constituents like the UK Liberal Dems). The best for Germany would be a coalition of the Conservatives with the realistic wing of the Greens, but this seems as unlikely as the Pink-Red-Green coalition.
As you stated for the Netherlands, in many European countries most real income growth has ended up in state coffers. A slightly better outcome than in the US where it was transferred to the ultra-rich while basic government services are deteriorating. The recent food stamps issue in the US is a disgrace for the "Christian" nation. The basic ineptitude of the Democrats is hard to understand, however. Is it really so difficult to get all those über-Christian Republicans in front of a TV camera and present them with what Jesus did for the hungry, what Republicans are voting for and ask WWJD? The campaigns could then hit hard with the basic message that these Republicans are no Christians at all. Instead, we will probably see Obama trade away some social protection to resolve the fake debt crisis.
Dikötter is on my TBR list. First, as soon as it will arrive, I will read a book about UK public housing Estates: An Intimate History.
In things MOOC, I've been listening to the lectures of A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari, whose tribute to inequality is an audition tape in case the Laurence A. Tisch professor says something so stupid or vile that it is even unpalatable for Harvard and a younger replacement is needed.
In the introduction to "Estates", the author Lynsey Hanley states (p.10f): ... a full stake in society ... what did matter was that you had succeeded in persuading those in power that you deserved better than to live in a slum, at the mercy of an exploitative landlord."
The core of the Reagan/Thatcher revolution was the reversal of this (Christian) principle of caring for others, for mankind. Most vile expressed perhaps during the US Republican primaries when the Republican audience cheered for the death of an ill man without health insurance. Shutting down the government only to deny other humans access to health care is nearly as despicable as going to war for the right to own humans as slaves. The US (and the world) is still paying for the botched "look forward not backward" restoration in the Old South.
Marseille, if the 3sat German documentary about the city I saw last Sunday is right, is about incompetent and corrupt local government. Spending 300M EUR for two museums to showcase the city while the banlieues are in misery looks like money wasted.
New York's new skyline looks good, though the single spire causes phantom pain for its missing twin. The Atlantic, meanwhile, presents concepts for Paris skyscrapers. Does Paris need twin towers larger than the Shard? Will the ultra-rich truly want to live in the concrete cultural desert of La Défense?
Marseille's problem seems to be first and foremost corruption and bad management. Supposedly, it also suffers from a high influx of beurs with limited education. At about a quarter of the population, I did not find them that more visible than the number of Turks and Moroccans in Amsterdam. And France's beurs include an elite that the Dutch are still building. For the rest, Marseille seems to suffer from its blue-collar background as much as Rotterdam. I did not find Marseille an unpleasant place to visit, but nobody tried to steal from me as in your case. At least I felt more at home there than in the neighbouring babyboomer paradise that is the Provence. I have forgone Marseille's new museum, which was not particularly well received in the press here (something about pompous French reasoning, I recall), preferring to wander through the city's late 19th-century and early 20th-century quarters. The raï-music promised by the NYT was mostly missing, though. I did see the Grand Atelier du Midi, but somehow 200 paintings in the style of sunny impressionism made many of these masterpieces look oddly uniform. Luckily, there were a few Matisses on show.
Consider me nuts, but doubtlessly the highlight of my time in Marseille was la Cité Radieuse. I even stayed the night there, as the building contains a hotel with four rooms in the style of le Corbu. The 1940's concrete construction is a bit noisy, but for the rest you enjoy fine views of the Mediterranean in a nicely wood-panelled studio. The building itself mostly still functions as it was meant to be. About half of the shops and offices in the building are still in use and there was art (photography) on show in the central hall. The elevation of the working class is still taken seriously here (up to the point that locals used the restaurant for discussing philosophie; which of course I had no inclination to attend), something you cannot say about all the left-wing parties in this corner of the world. The idea of shops in the building seems less outdated in France than here. I should research what ways the French have found to protect small stores and (half-day) local markets from supermarkets and chains like Mediamarkt. It is surprising to see young people selling some vegetables in a half-day local market and obviously being able to make a living this way.
I do not for a moment believe that Paris needs more skyscrapers. The French already cater to the ultra-rich in Cannes and Saint Tropez, and I wonder if doing that in Paris also would make a good business case if you read this article about London
The really curious aspect of One Hyde Park can be appreciated only at night. Walk past the complex then and you notice nearly every window is dark. As John Arlidge wrote in The Sunday Times, “It’s dark. Not just a bit dark—darker, say, than the surrounding buildings—but black dark. Only the odd light is on. . . . Seems like nobody’s home.”
Still it seems that catering to billionaires is good business for London. I recall that some ten thousand jobs depend upon them, but I cannot find you an article so quickly. The number of billionaires remains limited: we cannot all cater to them, no matter how much they would like us to do so. Billionaires are strange people. On the one hand they have incredibly costly yachts (both to obtain and to maintain), and then they all sail them under the flag of the Cayman Islands, as I noticed in Cannes. If you really want to show off that you have so much money that you don't care how it is wasted, why not pay taxes also?
In message 144 I tried to describe how multinational companies are changing the face of parts Amsterdam. Luckily, there are more capable people doing the same:
As businesses became more globalized and more virtualized, this created demand for new types of financial products and producer services – notably in the law, accounting, consultancy, and marketing areas – to help businesses service and control these far flung networks. These financial and producer services are subject to clustering economics, and end up concentrated in a relatively small number of cities around the world. These global cities serve as control nodes for various global networks and key production sites for these services.
The headquarters being moved is not a traditional headquarters, but rather a thin layer of only 40-60 top level people who require close interaction with providers of producer services. Traditional headquarters functions such as R&D, Sales, and IT will remain in Evansville, as will production.
As for British housing estates, they always make me think of this classic photo by Koen Wessing, albeit shot in Dublin:
In the industrial age, housing estates were not just built by associations, but also by companies, here among others by Philips and the Czech shoe producer Bata. I think most companies sold their houses in the 1970's, when globalisation started. I do not believe so much in the importance of religion or religious values in the government's involvement in housing. The welfare state is first and foremost the product of the two World Wars, particularly in Britain. The suffering of a drafted compatriots in the trenches had a profound influence on politics. No doubt the introduction of universal suffrage also played a role. That Margaret Thatcher reversed some of the policies of her predecessors was certainly necessary. The deficits, wage and price controls and endless strikes of British labour unions were not making things any better. Nationalised industries like car maker British Leyland were the laughing stock of Europe. Some other of her policies of Mrs. Thatcher were highly successful. The Big Bang in the City made London to the centre of European finance. Despite the socialised costs of saving the banks, it is still Britain's most successful new industry. And thanks to the ever depreciating Sterling, Britain now produces more cars than Italy. That said, her style was not necessarily pleasant, and in some ways she was not as successful as her fans claim. Britain remains a class society. Reagan's role is rather more "enigmatic". Reagan talked about reducing the role of the government, but borrowed like there was no tomorrow. The increase in the money supply started during his rule. It was an easy way to create a sunny morning in America, but we now pay the price. Reagan wasn't an economic conservative, he was a smooth talker. I have no idea how deeply religious he was, but you may find this article from the Calvinist Trouw newspaper (in Dutch, but run it in Google Chrome with translation) enlightening. It looks at the wealth effect of religion in America. Conservative christians do not invest and take few financial risks. 15 percent of strict protestants is poor. More moderate protestants are richer, as are catholics.
I do not think that the increasing share of the government in spending GDP in Europe is much better than the situation in the US. First of all, it can make your neighbours panic. Secondly, within the framework of euro-countries, there are quite strict requirements on the deficit you can run (unless you are France or Germany, then you get away with more, sûrement. Consequently, taxes are further increased, and that works miserably in a balance sheet recession, as the Dutch economy proofs. Last year government income fell despite tax increases. As a Keynesian, you would translate that into (marginal) multipliers. The Guardian had an interesting review of The Age of Oversupply. The book also puts the economic policies of the Thatcher-era in an interesting light.
Ha, the two hundred impressionist paintings are nothing to the even more colorful fauves presented on mauve painted walls in the Albertina in Vienna. The exhibition is titled Matisse and the Fauves for marketing purposes as the main artist is André Derain, the paintings by Matisse only sandwich those of Derain and many less well known ones (many Belgians and Dutch). The exhibition demonstrates well the transition from impressionism to fauvism to cubism. Zurich's Kunsthaus features the drawings of Edvard Munch (with a scream on autoplay at the exhibition website! Thanks very much!) which I will have a look at in a few weeks.
The EU has sponsered a survey about the general level of happiness with life and services in European cities (PDF), though the sample selection is quite strange. While most of the people enjoy living where they live (Stockholm syndrome?), a shocking 25% of inhabitants of Marseille do not. The survey unfortunately does not further break down who does unhappy ones are. Les rosbifs have a similar problem city, Bradford and pursue a similar art-driven cover-up strategy. Bradford has a National Media Museum that does not fit in there at all. On the other hand, when I visited the city, I ate a very good Afghan meal there. It would have been much more fitting to promote the cultural heritage and skills of its newly arrived inhabitants.
If you really want to show off that you have so much money that you don't care how it is wasted, why not pay taxes also?
Ask Marie-Antoinette, ah, Ann Romney who felt she already paid more than enough (if they did pay anything before it became convenient to do so) to the government and stiffed their own god too.
Regarding social housing, Hanley makes the point I had not considered before that the new buildings were effectively replacing slums. It was a sort of liberation but also imprisonment in a concentrated place with many of the previous licentious activities cut out (pubs, gambling halls etc.). The often lamented lack of space for youth activities and clubs happened by design. The designer wanted to transform the slum dwellers into petit bourgeois, in which they partially succeeded: Today's occupants complain about the noisy, uneducated and uncultured newcomers.
Have you heard about Ian Buruma's new Year Zero: A History of 1945? I read the first chapter and liked it very much.
Another great read about Dutch history that you seem to have already discovered (not sure if it holds up when one can read the original sources): The recapture of Formosa/Taiwan. The book's title Lost Colony: The Untold Story of Chinas First Great Victory over the West is not very helpful in transmitting its gist. While China itself was on the verge of being overrun by the Manchus, a Southern warlord reconquered Taiwan from the Dutch who tried to hold out in a Dien Bien Phu/Rorke's Drift situation - 2.000 scum of the earth Dutch against 100.000 Chinese fighting over a place at the end of the world. A great story, wonderful characters and good analysis in terms of the relevance of the (Western) military revolution.
Writing about architecture can be quite strange, especially taking morsels such as the positive sentiment that a building inspires "a delicate sense of terror", discovered by Lynsey Hanley in her book Estates. She made the mistake of buying her flat in a rapidly decaying social housing project and then campaigned for years to have the building demolished to get out of her investment again. Having to listen in to a murder happening in the building (due to poor insulation and absence of police) isn't usually part of the ownership society. Overall, a sad story how the aspiration of a better life for all turned into services for the poor becoming poor services. Vienna, fortunately, avoided most of the ghetto creation by building social housing all over the place. Today, the creation of ghettos is driven by the presence or absence of good schools (a very American phenomenon that is solvable but would require much political capital to invest/reorganize bad schools and at the same time halt the flight of the relatively more affluent to other schools).
On the other side of the scale, two old palaces are now open to the public. The former finance ministry located in the Winterpalais of Prince Eugene, who turned 350 yesterday, has been turned into a baroque museum of nice stately rooms. The Liechtenstein city palace (just behind the Burgtheater) is now also open to the public (against a hefty fee). The mix of baroque and Biedermeier is hard to stomach, though. Will the Liechtensteins use their palaces mostly as a tax-write-offs, I wonder whether the Winterpalais is sustainable as a museum. The Liechtensteins failed to attract enough visitors to their garden palace in the 9th district (despite having a major art collection). The Winterpalais is located right in the middle of the city but somewhat hidden in a side street. It also lacks a must see attraction. If you are going to visit one of Prince Eugene's palaces as a tourist, it will be the Belvedere.
Finally, the company history of Amazon is out and it ain't pretty: The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon. It tries to follow the success of the Jobs biography but it is actually written without access to Bezos (apart from some professional interviews). The focus is on Amazon, the company whose ruthlessness the author (as a Businessweek CEO worshipper in his day job) seems to admire.
Bezos and Amazon excel in ham and egg ventures where they collude with the customer to divide a naive partner's contribution (employees, government, suppliers, partner companies). Amazon's NY turnover declined by just about the tax rate after it was forced to apply VAT, so this part of the turnover was solely based on cheating government. What I didn't know before is that Amazon logistics was designed and staffed by Walmart people which explains Amazon's treatment of his employees as disposable warm bodies (the book does not treat the harder cases such as Amazon Germany employing neo-Nazi security guards to harass Spanish and Eastern European guest workers). The account of Amazon's malicious treatment of a German specialty knife producer shows how Amazon likes to cut into its partners and associates.
I had heard about Year Zero: A History of 1945?. After your remarks, I read the first chapter on Amazon. Much of it I already knew and the conclusion that the war was not a neat conflict between two sides has been generally accepted since the late 1970's. Ian Buruma combines the greater story with his father's war years, which followed a familiar pattern in the Netherlands. The sexual "excesses" in the days and months after liberation are a bit of a taboo subject, though. Geert Mak mentions them in his Een kleine geschiedenis van Amsterdam. My father's comments have always been limited to the remark that the "Canadians did not always behave like gentlemen". And not just in matters sexual. The Canadian liberators of Amsterdam (they entered the city after the cease-fire and surrender of the Reich) set up office in the marble halls of the Koloniaal Instituut. Supposedly, they caused more damage to the buildings than the German Grüne Polizei/a>, that had used the building for years (and left swastikas on some of the walls). And for a change, I experienced one event mentioned in the book: the commemorative return of the old soldiers in the 1980's. I do not recall any of the"state of frenzy, screaming like girls at a rock concert" that Mr. Buruma mentions. There is a novel written about that event called De perzik van onsterfelijkheid. It that was translated into German as Der Pfirsich der Unsterblichkeit. The author often used sexuality as a theme for his book, but I cannot remember that to be part of the book's theme. It is however a long time ago since I read it (and I have no idea whether you like it, so I won't recommend it).
Mr. Buruma's way of writing history has been the common standard for decades now, and may have found its origin in journalism. This combination of the big theme and a small history to make it all more tangible may also explain why Americans cannot report history "without a US angle/protagonist". Or at least an Anglo protagonist, because I have never seen this in a more ridiculous manner than in the film Anne and the King, where Anne's young son single-handedly saves the Royal Thai Army from defeat against the Burmese. I saw that film in the cinema in Hong Kong with a group of Asians (Chinese or Indonesians, I do not recall), and I was the only one offended by this blatant case of Orientalism.
By the way, according to recent OECD-research (which I take with a grain of salt, given that it claims that "mong German participants, only one in ten knew how to use a computer mouse"), Americans score poorly in its international assessment of Adult Competencies for life and work in the 21st century. The report is interesting in the way that it considers interpreting data and other computer products as most important. One interesting conclusion of the research is that men are far better equiped than women, which goes against conventional wisdom here. The material is an interesting read for an Autumn afternoon.
The fact that the designers of social housing "wanted to transform the slum dwellers into petit bourgeois" should not have surprised you. In fact, le Corbu was also thinking in terms of machines, and his socialist ideas were enthusiastically embraced by big business. I recently received a recommendation for the book The Passions and the Interests: Political Arguments for Capitalism before Its Triumph, which should explain the
ideological transformation that occurred, wherein the pursuit of material interests--so long condemned as the deadly sin of avarice--was assigned the role of containing the unruly and destructive passions of man. Hirschman here offers a new interpretation for the rise of capitalism, one that emphasizes the continuities between old and new, in contrast to the assumption of a sharp break that is a common feature of both Marxian and Weberian thinking. Among the insights presented here is the ironical finding that capitalism was originally supposed to accomplish exactly what was soon denounced as its worst feature: the repression of the passions in favor of the "harmless," if one-dimensional, interests of commercial life. To portray this lengthy ideological change as an endogenous process, Hirschman draws on the writings of a large number of thinkers, including Montesquieu, Sir James Steuart, and Adam Smith.
The American issue with schools is not completely unfamiliar here. In Amsterdam schools "autochthonous" make up less than 50% of the population. In the less popular housing areas most schools are "black", i.e. have a majority of children from third-world countries and cultures and language skills that "autochthonous" parents do not always see as positive for their children's development. Parents' freedom of choice of schools is however considered a basic rights ever since the "autochthonous" population was divided into religious "pillars".
That should probably be added to your pile of books to read.
The story of the Dutch development of Taiwan (before the Dutch it was mostly an island of aboriginal tribes not unlike the Philippines still are; the Dutch founded sugar plantations and imported the first Chinese workers) is not as well-known here as the Dutch presence in Japan or even Korea. I still have to read the book you mentioned, but I found Coxinga and the Fall of the Ming Dynasty about the same subject also very interesting. Reading about Coxinga and his African soldiers hired in Macau you realise there is nothing new about globalisation. Taiwan was a bit of an outpost in the Dutch colonial hierarchy and did not receive the support it required to survive as a colony. Overall, Northeast Asia was not as profitable as the Indonesian archipelago or South Asia (in the 17th century the Dutch were "bigger" in India than the British, but they could not maintain their imperial overstretch, and later returned to their core business in the Indies; disease in the Indonesian archipelago also reduced the number of soldiers able to man the forts and factories in their far-flung empire; soldiers that were often Germans and other foreigners). The other book proofs that Lost Colony: The Untold Story of Chinas First Great Victory over the West is not "the untold story" the publisher claims. It is certainly not unknown in Taiwan, where there is a monument for the Dutch surrender in Tainan (with the Dutch in a Spanish uniform) and where Europeans are traditionally called ang moh, i.e. "red haired barbarians" like my ancestors. Lost Colony seems to view the subject more from a military perspective, so I still want to read it. One day.
As about Amazon and the power of such companies to allocate capital and labour to maximise profits, the Financial Times had an interesting article some time ago:
Most people are still glad Amazon has come, believing that any sort of work is better than no work at all, but many have been taken aback by the conditions and bitterly disappointed by the insecurity of much of the employment on offer.
Recommended reading and shorter than a book!
Related to Amazon, the book Outsourcing Economics Global Value Chains in Capitalist Development was recommended to me. It deals with the employment effects of the current decade's form of globalisation. The excerpt gives a flavour of the book:
Our estimates in Chapter 5 for theUnited States suggest that offshoring – measured in over thirty manufacturing and service sectors from 1998 to 2006 – led to a drop in employment of approximately 3.5 million full-time equivalent jobs. A 10 percent increase in services and materials offshoring is associated with a 2.6 percent reduction in the share of value added going to workers, one indicator of the level of inequality in America.
I just wonder how controversial the calculations are. The conclusions are certainly politically controversial as well as controversial among economists who grew up with Pareto-optimality.
Next to that, the Dutch economist (and card-carrying member of the Labour Party) Heleen Mees obtained a doctorate in economics for claiming that an important reason for the crisis of 2008 is the re-allocation of wealth from developed economies to China and the Middle East. If your Dutch is up to it, she summarised it recently in a short TV-programme that can still be found here. She fot the idea her the idea for her thesis from a former member of the monetary board of the Bank of England.
I'd be wary of cross-cultural text comprehension comparisons. English, for instance, is almost always written at a level much easier to comprehend than a German or French text (part of the reason why Google Translate fails completely at DE->EN translations). Both Germany and France also have a cultural bias towards writing in more complicated than necessary language (and a penchant for long sentences). A Princeton professor argued in an interview some years ago that this is also one of the reasons why there are so few German and French book translations into English. The translator would have to remove so many literary and historical references as well as simplify the writing style that it is easier to commission a new work (the same goes with foreign films which are all remade for US consumption). A fun cultural comparison of male body shapes where the Dutch guy crushes the flabby American.
Generally I like Fons Trompenaars but whose recent TEDx talk in Amsterdam Riding the waves of culture closes with a cop-out. Usually, you can't rely on Mandela style leadership in an organization (whose leadership, by the way, has installed a rather wounded form of democracy in South Africa, though still better than in most other African countries). If different styles come into contact, which one will prevail. His client HSBC has been the poster boy of unethical leadership, warranting discussion not promotion.
The Lost Colony is really an outstanding read and I already ordered the other biography you indicated. The short life of Koxinga is fascinating: Born as the son of a Chinese pirate warlord and a Japanese ashigaru mother, he grew up first in Japan, then in China where he managed to obtain the second exam degree (1%). He then fought on land and sea against the new Qing dynasty (Manchus) with extreme levels of brutality against his own men.
The increasing Qing pressure pushed his coastal city reign towards conquering Formosa/Taiwan from the Dutch (who in turn had prior kicked out the Spanish). If Koxinga had not died quickly afterward, he might have established a trade-based sea empire out of Taiwan. Incidentally, only this conquest of Taiwan put the island into the crosshairs of the Qing who ruled the island from 1683 to 1895.
V & A in London have a lovely (as far as I can distinguish from afar) Chinese Painting 700-1900 exhibition going.
Have you seen the wonderful time-lapse video about China? Some great architecture old and new in there (also much light pollution). The opposite approach (at some of the same locations) is presented by Dutch architecture photographer Iwan Baan: Ingenious homes in unexpected places, the human ingenuity of creating a home even out of garbage. As with any TED talks, notice the deep libertarian ideology showing those enterprising people improving their dismal lives on their own. The Egyptian garbage collector town illustrates a libertarian paradise. Government and good regulation is never an option in a TED talk. Not a chance to mention that the IOC could have nudged China to provide housing containers for the construction workers (or FIFA have influenced Qatar not to use slave labor).
The featured unfinished Caracas tower incidentally plays a role in the current Homeland series. Jan Gehl has produced another coffee table book about How to Study Public Life which should arrive soon from across the pond (as the European edition will only be published at the end of the year; checking I now see that I overpaid 8 EUR compared to the current price).
The Economist published a favorable review of Russell Shorto's new cheerleading book Amsterdam: A History of the World's Most Liberal City. The Economist also produced a nice survey article about post-WWII civil wars. The article, however, puts to much emphasis on military casualties. It is the helpless civilian population between the warring forces that suffer the most.
Contra Ms Heleen Mees, I don’t think that China has any responsibility in the economic mismanagement. I found her TEDx Amsterdam talk rather unconvincing and not data-driven. Her research must have been distracted partially by her Dutch real life remake of fatal attraction. It is sad that the New York ménage à trois will now be punished by draconic US laws that punish stalking harder than gross financial misdeeds.
Back to her claim: On the basis that a more equal global distribution of consumption will create larger demand, it probably has even stabilized the world economy. China also soaked up a lot of excess capital created by Greenspan and wasted/sterilized it in real estate. This would have also cooled the US inflation acceleration. Most problems still are home-made not imports.
Finally, Zurich's Charlemagne exhibition is very church-oriented. At least, I now have seen the earliest surviving book written in German. I'm trying to read a new German biography about the man, sort of Germany's King Arthur, Karl der Große: Gewalt und Glaube but the writing is tiresome. Always a large number of disclaimers that what is to come is not verified but then present the speculations anyway. The text would have been much more entertaining if these disclaimers were footnotes.
In Vienna, meanwhile, Lucian Freud's works display the meat of the lower and upper British classes. While he is often compared to Titian, I think it would have been more productive to compare his work to Rubens. Both are very capable at bringing meat folds into the light, though for different reasons: Rubens celebrates hearty flesh, while Freud exposes its vulnerability. It is interesting that Lucian Freud found his own style rather early (in his twenties).
Germans indeed often need a lot more words than Anglos. Partly that is due to a more precise grammar. In that sense, English is more like Dutch. In Britain or the Netherlands there here has never been central control over the language, and basically that is not accepted by the languages' speakers. But it is also culture. Articles in Der Spiegel, the FAZ or Die Zeit are longer, because the authors are less to-the-point than the press . The pop science author Stefan Klein proofs that this is not necessary in the langue de Goethe. The NZZ also seems shorter than the German press. The historical references are an interesting point. What he is saying seems that Americans do not (need to) know the historical references of others. Whereas these others need to know American historical references, because of America's near monopolistic production.
I didn't think this Trompenaar-chap told much of interest. The question which culture will prevail is contextual. When Dutch companies merge with overseas partners, their management usually loses out. They are simply less hierarchical and more interested in an exchange of priorities. This works fine in companies were the Dutch have a majority stake, like the oil multinational Royal Dutch Shell (until some accountant became CEO and believed all the crap from its American trained managers; it almost killed the Society's engineering culture and its long-term outlook). But in case the other party is from a more hierarchical culture, no Dutchman survives in the top layer, even in areas were the Dutch have more experience (think Euronext's option trading) or were they are far more profitable (Air France/KLM). Size also matters. Having gone through various takeovers professionally, if the large party is more bureaucratic and unwilling to move, it usually wins from a smaller more pragmatic party. The pragmatic party will move around to find opportunities to get its point across. The larger one does not feel the need to move and just crush the party that was in many ways more versatile.
Oh, I hope you are not going to be disappointed about Coxinga and the Fall of the Ming Dynasty. It is a popular history book and may not add much if you have already read The Lost Colony. If you are disappointed, I hope I can make up with announcing the next series of Redmond O'Hanlon starting this Sunday. Again, it is about 19th century discovers. Surprisingly, Redmond even found himself a Dutch hero, and a woman at that too. Interestingly, you can watch the programme in the presence of the O'Hanlon in the nicely old(-fashioned) library of Amsterdam's zoo. Supposedly, O'Hanlon now lives in Amsterdam for much of the year.
I think I liked Iwan Baan talk more than the Chinese timelapse video. To me, Iwan Baan expresses a the surprise of a West European about how people in much poorer conditions manage to find solutions to housing issues and express individuality. I shared that ingenuity when I started travelling in third world countries. Now I take it for granted. I do not think he considered that Cairo slum as a (libertarian) paradise. But rising wealth inspires a rising need for privacy (something I clearly see among middle class Indonesians), whereas in klas kambing ("goat" or third class in Malay) trains people share food and if the battery of your mobile phone runs out, you just borrow your neighbour's. That Chinese video just shows an idealised picture of the country with music reminiscent of communist times (I have a CD with songs from the Cultural Revolution that are quite like this). China on the ground does not look so shiny. But the ingenuity is there, as I found in a pedicure centre under an overpass in Chongqing (simply ten women in a row with an extra chair for their customers). In the timelapse you only see Chongqing's skyscrapers, not the houses destroyed to put everyone in a rabbit-sized flat. One day they are going to be like Switzerland with a Starbucks train car. You would expect a country neighbouring Italy to have a better taste in coffee.
I think you underestimate Heleen Mees analysis of China's role in the crisis. Mrs. Mees' thesis is based upon statistical analysis and various theories. I do not feel myself qualified to judge if she is right. I always doubt theories based upon a single issue. But China played a role. First of all, just like the Germans, Swiss, Dutch and Austrians, the Chinese are mercantilists. The Chinese have built up large foreign reserves, which under normal circumstances would have led to an increase in the exchange rate of the Chinese currency. That currency has risen less than 15% in a decade. The rise of the yuan would have slowed down the migration of jobs to China (or more to Vietnam and other emerging "tigers") and/or had caused increased inflation. Remember that Alan Greenspan always pointed at low inflation as proof of his genial management of world economy. And the Chinese have an excessive savings rate (otherwise only found in, sigh, the Netherlands, that still lost its AAA-rating yesterday), which they surprisingly combine with an excessive investment rate. Almost all Asian competition outside of Japan, and certainly almost all Chinese competition, is based upon under-cutting other companies' price. China's excessive foreign trade reserves were mostly ploughed back into Western bonds and bank holdings, not unlike the booming wealth of oil producing countries ended up in South America via American banks. When the South American economies crashed, those banks went belly up and the Brady Bond was introduced.
I find more and more articles supporting my intuitive idea that the increased income inequality in the developed world is actually harmful for total economic output. I forgot to store the article, but most macro-economic models are still based upon a single rational consumer representing everyone. However, low income earners behave differently from high-income earners. They spend more of their income and also do not take macro economic consequences of excess government spending into account, like "Austrian" economists claim. Income differences make capital cheaper, but that is no longer important with the increased money supply since the Reagan era. What is more important is reduced spending from the lower income earners. If I am correct, an Ordnungswirtschaftler would support reduced income differences to increase total output. Income differences are now back to a level last seen a century ago. One argument against my theory is that high income earners hold more financial assets, who just rise excessively in times of loose monetary policy.
By the way, a few weeks ago I finally made it to the Rijksmuseum. I found it a mixed bag. The quality of the items on show is outstanding, although less so in its coverage of the 20th century. Equally, the presentation is excellent and far nicer than for example the Louvre. You could say that it is more in line with the upgraded facilities in parts of the Metropolitan Museum of Arts in New York (or museums in Singapore and Korea, ha!). I was less enamoured by the combination of historical artifacts with art. It makes the artifacts nice in supporting the art, but they somehow lose importance against art works made purely as presentations. Worst of all was the massive amount of people in the museum. After an hour of queuing to get in, we found ourselves queuing again for many a painting (not in the least for the few Vermeers). Also strange was the staffing of the museum. Security guards and café staff consists mostly of immigrants and students, but the Rijksmuseum hired "people with attitude". I think they defined "attitude" as being blonde or brunettes. But tourists will like it, and that is what such museums are meant for, I suppose.
I quite like Coxinga and the Fall of the Ming Dynasty, as it often adds aspects not covered by Andrade's Lost Colony: The Untold Story of China's First Great Victory over the West (It is weird that the prior touchstone no goes to a different Lost Colony - when I entered it I checked that it had the correct connection), though it also creates dissonance as the stories told differ. Whom to believe?
What I find interesting, and not really covered by Andrade, is Frederick Coyett's Swedish origins which caused the true Dutch to not fully trust him. As most turncoats/deserters seemed to have been Swiss, German and Belgians, it looks like the Dutch in-group held together tighter.
Thanks for the mention of Redmond O'Hanlon. While he keeps repeating his stick a bit too often, it was interesting to learn about the expedition of the rich Dutch ladies escaping the European rigidities and playing queens of Africa. I am looking forward to the next episode and their gruesome end.
In terms of 19th century travel, I visited yesterday a nice exhibition in the Wien Museum about the Austro-Hungarian Dalmatian coast ("Österreichische Riviera") and the birth of its tourism in the 19th century. The loss of Italy (esp. Venice) resulted in a shift to the other side of the Adria (formerly the haunt of pirates) and the development of Fiume and Trieste down to Dubrovnik. The rearrangement with Hungary meant that the Austrian places in the sun shifted northwards again.
The English were meanwhile discovering the Swiss Alps, traveling under the guidance of Thomas Cook & Sons from London to Paris to Geneva to Chamonix and then across the Alps to Lucerne. A Swiss-based English expat has retraced their steps in a charming book: Slow Train to Switzerland. It doesn't get more English as when the author Diccon Bewes reads an inscription of Fanny Suckling commemorating the Alpine death of an Englishman in Geneva's English church. I wish the author had paid a bit more attention to historical accuracy. Napoleon did not conquer Switzerland, he was busy in Egypt at the time. The Swiss invasion was a project of the French revolution bringing liberty to the stuffy Swiss oligarchic ancien régime. His account of Savoy history is the one-eyed leading the blind. Otherwise a fun read about 19th century travel (keep one set of underwear for the evening!).
It is exceedingly difficult to prepare good coffee in trains. Giving up and handing it to Starbucks is a good idea as they mostly sell milk which is easy to prepare. The first entry of Starbucks to Vienna failed dismally. Now, they tried again and are quite successful in tourist locations catering to Americans craving for their sugarmilk and being afraid to ask a surly Austrian waiter.
It used to be that Vienna's museum security guards were used as a social institution to reintegrate/keep marginally employed the drunkards. Now, it looks like it has become a student job. I prefer the American style of staffing museums with grandpas and grandmas who know everything about the items exhibited and usually welcome a talk.
There is nothing wrong with milk, although I personally prefer butter milk with my sandwich with aged Gouda. In Amsterdam Starbucks is mainly expanding in railway stations and in areas with tourists and expats. Although tourists are very interested in certain aspects of Amsterdam's couleur locale (most notably the Red Light District and the city's "normal" coffee shops), for coffee the local cafés and copycats seem too exotic to many. I have yet to visit a Starbucks in Europe. And I wholeheartedly agree that nothing gives you that feeling of being in Vienna any better than a surly waiter (except probably the elderly ladies working as cashiers at local supermarket chain Billa - freut euch Leute).
I also agree with you that the first part of the new series of heroes of Redmond O'Hanlon was among his best. I doubt if O'Hanlon has any real affinity with Alexandrine Tinné. He may just be pleasing the broadcasting corporation that contracted him. Even a simple explanation of the family riches was not given. And Ms. Tinné should not be underestimated. David Livingstone rather admired her. In his highly readable Explorers of the Nile (a perfect accompaniment for the Christmas holidays, I'd say), the author Tim Jeal quotes the doctor:
None rises higher in my estimation than Miss Tinné, who after the severest domestic afflictions, nobly persevered in the teeth of every difficulty... (she) came further up the river than the centurions sent by Nero Caesar she passed Gondokoro and reached Rejaf, and showed such indomitable pluck as to reflect honour on her race.
It may have helped that Alexandrine Tinné was raised in Britain. Much of the artifacts that remain of her are in a museum in Liverpool. I have bought tickets to watch the last episode of this series in the library of the Zoo. Unfortunately, I am not going to be in town to go to the episode about Richard Francis Burton, who, as you certainly know, died in Trieste, just north of the Dalmatian Coast.
I am happy to hear that you enjoy Coxinga and the Fall of the Ming Dynasty. Would you still recommend reading Lost Colony: The Untold Story of China's First Great Victory over the West? As for foreigners in the service of the Dutch Companies, there was reason for distrust. E.g. Henry Hudson sailed up the river named after him in the service of the East India Company. On the way back he stopped his ship in Britain and tried to sell his secret knowledge to the British government. The West India and East India Companies were authorised by the state and as such used as pawns in the Republic's wars with foreign countries (mostly France, Britain, Spain and Portugal). Hence some national(ist) loyalties must have been useful. Mostly, the officer corps was Dutch and the foot soldiers came from everywhere. Most of them came from German lands and Scandinavia (as stated earlier, Germans were for centuries to the Dutch what the Turks are now to the Germans). Roelof van Gelder has written the book Das ostindische Abenteuer about them. Another book waiting for my attention is this author's Naporra's omweg, that recounts the book of an East Prussian soldier in the service of the East India Company in the 18th century.
Not a fan of buttermilk (karnemelk) or Gouda, I prefer a seasoned Emmentaler or Tilsiter cheese. The personnel in Billa, by the way, has changed - for the better. You are most likely to be served by a first or second generation Eastern European newcomer. Regarding Vienna and the world, there is a new picture-heavy book out about Kafka and Vienna by Hartmut Binder: Kafkas Wien: Portrait einer schwierigen Beziehung. As I have not yet digested my copy of Kafka in Paris, I'll probably make do having a look at the library copy.
Coxinga and Lost Colony focus on different stories. Coxinga is a book about China where the Dutch also play a role (with about one chapter about the siege and loss of Taiwan). The Lost Colony's concern is the siege and the interaction between the Dutch and Chinese. A parallel read of both books is certainly valuable due to the author's different framing, e.g. Andrade mentions that the meteoric rise of Coxinga's father may have been due to him being the lover/gigolo of his patrons, an aspect Clements completely glosses over. Lacking any background knowledge it can be a bit startling to judge the validity of the different claims.
I didn't know that natuuronderzoeker Richard Burton died of heart attack in Trieste, then a more bustling city as Austria's connection to the sea (14.000 ships p.a.) than the sleepy town it is today. On the VPRO site, they call Alexine Tinné, rather harshly, the Paris Hilton of her day. Life as a party girl (and exotic tourist) was probably much freer among the expats in Africa than in rigid protestant Dutch society: “Mijn god, ze gaan naar gebieden waar de mannen naakt rondlopen!”
On the book shelves, the First World War is all the rage. I should probably read Manfred Rauchensteiner's updated opus Der Erste Weltkrieg: Und das Ende der Habsburgermonarchie 1914-1918, updated from 700 to 1200 pages. I'd really like to know what went on in the publisher's mind when they decided to drop all the maps but two from the earlier 1980s edition. Given the political changes since then, they couldn't reuse them. Cutting them out completely is a baby and the bathwater case.
To kick-off WWI, I will read both Clark's Sleepwalkers and Margaret Macmillan's The War That Ended Peace: How Europe Abandoned Peace for the First World War. As I enjoyed her 1919 book, I started with her book, though I found it very disappointing. Neither her six research assistants nor her editor apparently are familiar with the German language or the country. There are quite a number of sloppy mistakes. More grating is the Rule Britannia bias of the book. It is all about Britain and the English apparently have a god-given right to rule the planet. Objecting foreigners must be crazy in their pretty heads. Macmillan's view of foreigners is that there is an English(wo)man in everyone behind a strange even crazy foreign mask. This frame hinders analysis as she is similarly stuck like much of current political analysis of why China/Iran/Afghanistan doesn't act according to the best interest of the United States. I hope Clark's Sleepwalkers is better.
Finally, the well illustrated TV series tie-in book La España de Isabel arrived. I enjoyed watching the two seasons of Isabel, the Spanish historic drama about the Catholic kings which is streamed freely at RTVE (in Spanish, naturally). The booklet offers a bit more information about late medieval Spain (mostly Castile), an era I know very little about.
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