Race and recession

December 28, 2008

This sort of thing seems to happen to Mr Sailer a lot.

Ponzi schemes

December 28, 2008

from Skeptic

Banking Regulation

December 26, 2008

This is some crazy shit at the OTS.  So based on how things have been going, they should get a lot more regulatory responsibility from Congress, right?

Rethinking Deep Throat

December 22, 2008

From Stratfor, which has some amazing analysis:

In our view, Nixon was as guilty as sin of more things than were ever proven. Nevertheless, there is another side to this story. The FBI was carrying out espionage against the president of the United States, not for any later prosecution of Nixon for a specific crime (the spying had to have been going on well before the break-in), but to increase the FBI’s control over Nixon. Woodward, Bernstein and above all, Bradlee, knew what was going on. Woodward and Bernstein might have been young and naive, but Bradlee was an old Washington hand who knew exactly who Felt was, knew the FBI playbook and understood that Felt could not have played the role he did without a focused FBI operation against the president. Bradlee knew perfectly well that Woodward and Bernstein were not breaking the story, but were having it spoon-fed to them by a master. He knew that the president of the United States, guilty or not, was being destroyed by Hoover’s jilted heir.

This was enormously important news. The Washington Post decided not to report it. The story of Deep Throat was well-known, but what lurked behind the identity of Deep Throat was not. This was not a lone whistle-blower being protected by a courageous news organization; rather, it was a news organization being used by the FBI against the president, and a news organization that knew perfectly well that it was being used against the president. Protecting Deep Throat concealed not only an individual, but also the story of the FBI’s role in destroying Nixon.

"But, wait, the elites thought that microfinance would work. Giving money to poor people, how could that possibly go wrong?"

December 22, 2008

I don't know much about microfinance, but this explanation seems plausible to me:

At The Hackensack, the reasons are spelled out: at the level of the start-up business, talent is lacking, and the money given to the start-ups decreases capital available to those who can make the best use of it.

That's too bad.  I wonder if the evidence will slow down the movement.

"In the end, we’ll be the same as Zimbabwe."

December 22, 2008

More sad, under-covered stories about South Africa.


December 22, 2008

Is this what Twain meant when he said that history doesn't repeat but rhymes?

Review of "Roll, Jordan, Roll" by Eugene Genovese

December 21, 2008

This was certainly an interesting book.  I read it after reading this recommendation:

If you want an accurate perspective of American slavery, I recommend Eugene Genovese’s Roll, Jordan, Roll, which is a little Marxist but only superficially so. No work like it could be written today.

I thought it was a lot Marxist, but it didn’t seem to matter.  Genovese is a pretty interesting guy:

He was active in the Communist youth movement until he was expelled “for having zigged when I was supposed to zag.” . . .

He was an editor of Studies on the Left and Marxist Perpectives. . . .

At an April 23, 1965, teach-in at Rutgers University where he was teaching, Genovese stated, “Those of you who know me know that I am a Marxist and a Socialist. Therefore, unlike most of my distinguished colleagues here this morning, I do not fear or regret the impending Viet Cong victory in Vietnam. I welcome it.” . . .

In his best-known book Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made (1974), Genovese examined the society of the slaves. This book won the national Bancroft Prize in History. Genovese viewed the antebellum South as a closed and organically united paternalist society that exploited and attempted to dehumanize the slaves. Genovese paid close attention to the role of religion as a form of resistance in the daily life of the slaves because slaves used it to give themselves a sense of humanity. He redefined resistance to slavery as all efforts by which slaves rejected their status as slaves, including their religion, music and the culture they built. Genovese applied Antonio Gramsci‘s theory of cultural hegemony to the slave South.

He placed paternalism at the center of the master-slave relationship. Both masters and slaves embraced paternalism, though for different reasons and with varying notions of what paternalism meant. For the slaveowners, paternalism allowed them to think of themselves as benevolent and to justify their appropriation of their slaves’ labor. Paternalist ideology, they believed, also gave the institution of slavery a more benign face and helped deflate the increasingly strong abolitionist critique of the institution. Slaves, on the other hand, recognized that paternalist ideology could be twisted to suit their own ends, by providing them with improved living and working conditions. Slaves struggled mightily to convert the benevolent “gifts” or “privileges” bestowed upon them by their masters into customary rights which masters would not violate. The reciprocity of paternalism could work to the slaves’ advantage by allowing them to demand more humane treatment from their masters.

Religion was an important theme in Roll, Jordan, Roll and other studies. Genovese noted that Evangelicals recognized slavery as the root of Southern ills and sought some reforms, but no substantial change of the system. Genovese’s contention was that after 1830, southern Christianity became part of social control of the slaves. Furthermore, he argued that the slaves’ religion was not conducive to millenarianism or a revolutionary political tradition. Rather, it helped them survive and resist. . . .

Genovese eventually converted to Catholicism and became a conservative, though he was a Southern, agrarian Conservative (thus while Conservative, he maintained some hostility to capitalism).

A couple other reviews can be found here and here.  I found the later one particularly interesting:

Paternalism first. For Genovese, paternalism was an ideology rooted in the political economy of antebellum slavery, particularly in the efforts between 1831 and 1861 of a group of slaveholding “reformers” to stave off the growing antislavery movement in parts of the upper South and the nation at large. Through a set of managerial reforms and emotional transformations, Genovese argues, slaveholders attempted to “humanize” slavery while at the same time consolidating the institution’s political position. Genovese gives a number of examples of what he means by slaveholding paternalism. Slaveholders, he tells us, “almost with one voice . . . denounced cruelty” (71). They “boasted of the physical or intellectual prowess of one or more of [their] blacks, much as the strictest father might boast of the prowess of a favored child” (73). They thought of their obligation to feed, clothe, and take care of their slaves as “a duty and a burden” upon themselves even as they tried to make their slaves’ work “as festive as possible” (75, 60). They described their own children and their slaves as being part of a single “family black and white” (without any apparent ironic recognition of the degree to which this was often literally the case) (73). And they were genuinely shocked, dismayed, and devastated–”betrayed” is the word Genovese uses–when their erstwhile slaves took off in search of freedom at the end of the Civil War (97). At that historic moment (as well as at a host of local moments throughout the period of slavery), Genovese argues, it became clear that the slaveholders’ actually believed what they were saying, that they “desperately needed the gratitude of their slaves in order to define themselves as moral human beings” (146). Slaveholders were themselves living lives defined and limited by slavery. . . .

Properly understood, the Gramscian notion of cultural hegemony is a theory of the transformation of rule into consent. At certain moments in time, the Italian Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci argued, rule by a single class can be enforced not through violence, but through general, if unwitting, assent to a set of limiting definitions of the field of the politically possible. Gramsci’s own analysis and much of the like-minded thinking that has followed it, has been particularly concerned with the ability of capitalist ruling classes to make their own dominance seem as if it is predicated upon universal participation and directed toward the common good. Following this line of argument, in Roll, Jordan, Roll, Genovese claims that slaveholders were able, through their paternalist ideology, to refigure what was fundamentally a system of class exploitation as a set of more local relationships between slaves and slaveholders–personal, familial, communal. Genovese does not argue that slaveholders always lived up to the rosiest promises of their paternalism, though he certainly thinks they tried. Rather he argues that paternalism provided the ideological mechanism through which they could disguise their exploitation of their slaves. By reformulating the class relationships of slavery as a system of reciprocal duties and obligations–you hew the wood and draw the water and I’ll (have you) whitewash the slave quarter and clean out the latrine–slaveholders exerted hegemony over slaves, claiming that they ruled not in their own interested but in the interest of those they owned.

According to Roll, Jordan, Roll this hegemonic sleight of hand was generally successful. For even when their slaves rejected this claim and resisted their masters (as Genovese freely admits they often did), their resistance generally took the form of localized challenges to their owners’ authority rather than large-scale, fully theorized collective revolts designed to overthrow slavery itself. In Genovese’s formulation, and this is the heart of the argument, slowing down, playing sick, mouthing off, burning down buildings, and, even, assaulting and murdering masters and overseers did not weaken the authority of the slaveholders, but actually strengthened it. This because, first, these types of resistance formulated the problem of slavery as a problem that occurred upon an individual plantation or farm and between a master or overseer and a slave–they localized, personalized, and naturalized what Genovese believes could only be properly understood as a hemispheric system of class exploitation. And, second, because they bled away resistance energy that might have otherwise gathered into the collective fury of revolution. Day-to-day resistance to slavery was, by this argument, at best a “prepolitical” or even “apolitical” form of “accommodation,” and at worst “pathetic nihilism.”(598, 659). . . .

The basic question out of which Roll, Jordan, Roll unfolds its discussion of hegemony is this: why didn’t North American slaves revolt more?

This review gets to the heart of the book, but it paints the book in a more extreme position that it takes.  At times it is unfair.  For example, the reviewer criticizes Genovese by quoting this sentence, “The slaveholders were heroes.”  This quotation is one of the most out-of-context quotations I’ve ever seen.  The context is:

And they wallowed in those deformities which their slaves had thrust upon them in the revenge of historical silence–deformities which would eventually lead them to destruction as a class.  The Chinese have a proverb: “A hero may risk his whole world but will never surrender his concubine or his horse.”  The slaveholders were heroes.

So take the review with a heavy dosage of salt.

Our understanding of slavery comes from what is essentially propaganda, as Mr Moldbug pointed out.  Genovese’s analysis of slavery paints a picture that is much less black and white.  It’s a picture that economists have re-discovered more recently.  It’s also a picture that is much more believable, if one stops to think about how life was actually lived in the South.  The overall condition of blacks in the South was probably better than the overall condition of many workers in the North or in Europe.  Unlike in other slave societies, blacks in the South lived in very close proximity to their masters.  Their children often played together.  Contact with people outside this “family” was often somewhat rare.

Genovese’s South is a region riddled with contradiction to deal with this reality.  A whole philosophy developed to contain these contradictions.  We find interesting dynamics in which, as slavery became more entrenched, it could become more humane (relatively speaking, of course): “the slave regime of the Old South became progressively more repressive with respect to manumission as it became progressively more humane with respect to the material conditions of life.”

Contradiction became readily apparent after the war, as the system was destroyed and a new system to help blacks and whites live together was not provided by the victors.  For example, Genovese cites the basic fairness of the judicial system toward blacks when it came to rape and murder trials in the pre-war years.  Of course the overall system was still incredibly racist on other points, but the hysteria that characterized the post-war judicial system was absent.  Southerners saw “no contradiction between their code of honor, with its appeal to extralegal force, and a respect for the law itself.”

Genovese’s biggest questions is much bigger than simply the lack of revolts.  It encompasses reproduction: “The South had the only slave system in the New World in which the slaves reproduced themselves.”  It encompasses slaves defending their “white families” from Northern troops.  It encompasses the low rates of suicide among slaves, compared to other slave societies and to whites in the US.  These are facts which make the overall picture much less black and white that it is portrayed in the more popular historical propaganda.

Bush’s legacy

December 21, 2008

Here's George Will on the expansion of Executive power under Bush and the increasing irrelevance of the Legislature.  This Wikipedia page has a table which compiles various rankings of Presidents.  Top Presidents fall into two categories: 1) early Presidents who were also Founders; and 2) Presidents that greatly expanded Executive authority.  For this reason, even though I think Bush was a terrible President, I think he will eventually be "re-analyzed" by historians and they will find a lot to like.

A potential problem I see with my suggestion is that Bush will have no defenders.  At this point, no self-respecting Conservative or Libertarian would even begin to defend his Presidency.  He's going to need some defenders, if his legacy is ever to improve.

The legacy of the bailout

December 21, 2008

Will it be remembered for being as half-assed as it really was?


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