voters never approved the euro — 4/06/17

Today’s encore selection — from War and Gold by Kwasi Kwarteng. European countries have high levels of trade with each other, so they needed currency exchange rates that are relatively stable. In the early twentieth century, having their currencies tied to gold provided that. After World War II, it was provided by the Bretton Woods agreement, which tied these major currencies to the dollar, which was in turn tied to gold. But after President Richard Nixon took the U.S. off the gold standard in 1971, the need reappeared and a number of European countries created a mechanism called the “snake,” which constrained fluctuations of currencies, and then the “exchange rate mechanism,” which did much the same thing. But the ultimate dream was to create a single currency — the euro — in one of the boldest monetary initiatives in history. For something so resolute and so laden with potential moral hazard, and for something that has in recent years contributed to so much European economic pain, it was surprisingly the creation of technocrats, and never taken to any country’s voters for their approval:
“The fiscal situation of the European countries which aspired to join the single currency [in 1997] did not inspire confidence. All through the late 1990s, the lack of preparedness of certain EU countries to join the euro was a subject of open debate. ‘There has, of course, been some sleight of hand,’ wrote Rupert Cornwell in the Independent in February 1998. ‘It remains mysterious quite how Italy, which for years regularly ran double-digit budget deficits, conveniently slashed last year’s to a mere 2.7 per cent of GDP.’ It was obvious, even before the euro was launched, that the single currency was an almost purely political project, which would be pursued without any real regard for the underlying economic reality. As the Frenchman Jacques Rueff had said, ‘Europe will make itself by money or not at all.’ The words of the Portuguese Prime Minister António Guterres at the Madrid summit in December 1995 were even more grandiose and emphatic: ‘When Jesus resolved to found a church, he said to Peter, “You are Peter, the rock, and upon this rock I will build my church.” You are the euro, and upon this new currency we will build our Europe.’

“There was never any idea that the people of Europe, the citizens of the individual states, would be consulted before this momentous step was taken. As [Otmar] Issing [the German economist who also served as a member of the European Central Bank’s first executive board], himself later admitted, it was ‘doubtless in Germany that resistance to EMU was the greatest’. The decision to ‘abandon the D-Mark required a great deal of political courage’, he remembered. In opinion polls conducted as late as the autumn of 1995, only 34 per cent of Germans were in favour of the single currency, while 45 per cent were against. Needless to say, these figures were reversed as the decade wore on and the single currency became more imminent. By the spring of 1999, some 55 per cent of Germans now supported the single currency while only 36 per cent continued their opposition.

“In the same poll from 1995, the Finns were shown to be the least in favour of the currency among the nations which eventually joined: 53 per cent of Finns were hostile to the currency, while only 33 per cent approved. It is important to grasp the extent to which Europe’s political elites were committed to the single currency. The reasons why numerous political figures and bankers became strong advocates of the euro differed. For the Germans, it was often as much a symbol of fiscal discipline as a badge of European unity. For Issing, the benefits of the euro were explicitly focused on the need for fiscal discipline. This was a view widely held in Germany and the Netherlands.
“The people of Europe, of course, had not been consulted before the single currency was officially launched on 1 January 1999. The euro was always conceived as an elite project, conjured up by technocrats, to be foisted upon a largely acquiescent and amorphous European public. There was as yet no European superstate, a fact which worried Germans, unsure of whether a monetary union was possible without a political union.”
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War and Gold: A Five-Hundred-Year History of Empires, Adventures, and Debt

Publisher: PublicAffairs
Copyright 2014 Kwasi Kwarteng
Pages: 277-278

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stalin starves more than one million to their death — 3/10/17

Today’s selection — from Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin by Timothy Snyder. Joseph Stalin wanted to build his country and advance the cause of communism. Central to that was his desire to build industrial factories in cities. But to do that he needed to make a massive investment in large-scale machines, purchasing them in large part from more advanced countries. The only way to afford these machines was to sell surplus grain, which required collectivizing and squeezing a surplus from the primitive farming communities in the vast and fertile lands of the Ukraine. Over time, this effort led to the death of millions of Soviet citizens:
“[After an initial attempt at collectivization that failed,] Stalin maintained that the problem with collectivization was that it had been imple­mented with just a little too much enthusiasm. It had been a mistake, he now asserted, to force the peasants to join the collective farms. The latter now dis­appeared just as quickly as they had been created. In 1930, peasants in Ukraine harvested the winter wheat, and sowed the seeds for the autumn crops, just as if the land belonged to them. They could be forgiven for thinking that they had won.
“Stalin’s withdrawal was tactical. Given time to think, Stalin and the politburo found more effective means to subordinate the peasantry to the state. In the countryside the following year, Soviet policy preceded with much greater deftness. In 1931, collectivization would come because peasants would no longer see a choice. The lower cadres of the Ukrainian branch of the Soviet communist party were purged, to ensure that those working within the villages would be true to their purpose, and un­derstand what would await them if they were not. The independent farmer was taxed until the collective farm became the only refuge. As the collective farms slowly regrouped, they were granted indirect coercive power over neighboring independent farmers. They were allowed, for example, to vote to take the seed grain away from independent farmers. The seed grain, what is kept from one crop to plant the next, is indispensible to any working farm. The selection and preservation of the seed grain is the basis of agriculture. For most of human his­tory, eating the seed grain has been synonymous with utter desperation. An in­dividual who lost control of the seed grain to the collective lost the ability to live from his or her own labor.
Starved peasants on a street in Kharkiv, 1933
“Deportations resumed, and collectivization proceeded. In late 1930 and early 1931, some 32,127 more households were deported from Soviet Ukraine, about the same number of people as had been removed during the first wave of de­portations a year before. Peasants thought that they would die either of exhaus­tion in the Gulag or of hunger close to home, and preferred the latter. Letters from exiled friends and family occasionally escaped the censor; one included the following advice: ‘No matter what, don’t come. We are dying here. Better to hide, better to die there, but no matter what, don’t come here,’ Ukrainian peas­ants who yielded to collectivization chose, as one party activist understood, ‘to face starvation at home rather than banishment to the unknown.’ Because col­lectivization came more slowly in 1931, family by family rather than whole vil­lages at once, it was harder to resist. There was no sudden attack to provoke a desperate defense. By the end of the year, the new approach had succeeded. About seventy percent of the farmland in Soviet Ukraine was now collectivized. The levels of March 1930 had been reached again, and this time durably. …
“By autumn 1931 the failure of the first collectivized harvest was obvious. The reasons were many: the weather was poor; pests were a problem; animal power was limited because peasants had sold or slaughtered livestock; the pro­duction of tractors was far less than anticipated; the best farmers had been de­ported; sowing and reaping were disrupted by collectivization; and peasants who had lost their land saw no reason to work very hard. …
“More than half of the (nonspoiled) harvest was removed from Soviet Ukraine in 1931. Many collective farms met their requisition targets only by handing over their seed grain. Stalin ordered on 5 December that collective farms that had not yet fulfilled their annual requirements must surrender their seed grain. Stalin perhaps believed that peasants were hiding food, and thought that the threat of taking the seed grain would motivate them to hand over what they had. But by this time many of them truly had nothing. By the end of 1931, many peasants were already going hungry. With no land of their own and with little ability to resist requisitions, they simply had no way to ensure that a sufficient number of calories reached their households. Then in early 1932 they had no seed grain with which to plant the fall crop. The Ukrainian party leadership asked for seed grain in March 1932, but by that time the planting was already delayed, meaning that the harvest that fall would be poor.
“In early 1932 people asked for help. Ukrainian communists requested that their superiors in the Ukrainian party ask Stalin to call in the Red Cross. … Ukrainian party members bypassed [General Secretary Stanislav] Kosior and wrote directly to Stalin, taking an angry tone: ‘How can we construct the socialist economy when we are all doomed to death by hunger?’
“The threat of mass starvation was utterly clear to Soviet Ukrainian authori­ties, and it became so to Stalin. Party activists and secret police officers filed countless reports of death by starvation. In June 1932 the head of the party in the Kharkiv region wrote to Kosior that starvation had been reported in every single district of his region. Kosior received a letter from a member of the Young Communists dated 18 June 1932, with a graphic description that was probably, by then, all too familiar: ‘Collective farm members go into the fields and disap­pear. After a few days their corpses are found and, entirely without emotion, as though this were normal, buried in graves. The next day one can already find the body of someone who had just been digging graves for others.’…
“That Stalin’s own policy of collectivization could cause mass starvation was also clear. By summer 1932, as Stalin knew, more than a million people had already starved to death in Soviet Kazakhstan. … Stalin, a master of personal politics, presented the Ukrainian famine in personal terms. His first impulse, and his lasting tendency, was to see the starvation of Ukrainian peasants as a betrayal by members of the Ukrainian communist party.”
Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin

Publisher: Basic Books
Copyright 2010 by Timothy Snyder
Pages 32-35

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human sacrifice — 1/30/17

Today’s selection — from Mexico City by Nick Caistor. When Hernando Cortez and his troops arrived at Tenochtitlán (current day Mexico City) they witnessed the Mexica [rulers of the Aztec empire] performing the ritual of human sacrifice. These sacrifices were performed at a moment of dread for the Mexica, the end of a 52 year cycle, when they were unsure whether the world would be renewed or come to an end in disaster, and they offered these sacrifices in hopes that the cycle would be renewed:
“During the final assault on Tenochtitlán, Bernal Díaz del Castillo was witness to what happened to some Spanish soldiers captured by the Mexica and taken to the Great Temple. His gruesome account spared no details:
Human sacrifice as shown in the Codex Magliabechiano, Folio 70.

 

Again there was sounded the dismal drum of Huichilobos (Huitzili) and many other shells and horns and things like trumpets and the sound of them all was terrifying, and we all looked towards the lofty Cue [Great Temple] where they were being sounded, and saw that our comrades whom they had captured when they defeated Cortés were being carried by force up the steps, and they were taking them to be sacrificed. When they had got them up to a small square in front of the oratory, where their accursed idols are kept, we saw them place plumes on the heads of many of them and with things like fans in their hands they forced them to dance before Huichilobos, and after they had danced they immediately placed them on their backs on some rather narrow stones which had been prepared as places for sacrifice, and with stone knives they sawed open their chests and drew out their palpitating hearts and offered them to the idols that were there, and they kicked the bodies down the steps, and Indian butchers who were waiting below cut off the arms and feet and flayed the skin off the faces, and prepared it afterwards like glove leather with the beards on, and kept those for the festivals when they celebrated drunken orgies, and the flesh they ate in chilmole. In the same way they sacrificed all the others and ate the legs and arms and offered the hearts and blood to their idols, as I have said, and the bodies, that is their entrails and feet, they threw to the tigers and lions which they kept in the house of the carnivores.

“Experiences such as this meant that when Cones and his men finally completed their conquest of the city, they were all the more determined to pull down the ‘accursed’ buildings of the Mexica. Like much of the rest of the city center, the Great Temple was razed to the ground. Some of its stones were used in the construction of the first Christian churches in the Spanish Mexico City. And that was the last that was seen of the Great Temple for more than 450 years. …
“The [archeologists] who [beginning in 1978] uncovered the remains [of Tenochtitlán] confirmed what the early Spanish chroniclers had suggested: that Tenochtitlán, the city of the Mexica, was first and foremost a religious and ceremonial center. Its main function was a religious one, … the Mexica hoped to bring divine blessing, to ward off evil, and to keep the world turning. …
“The sacrifices, which had so horrified Díaz del Castillo, were not mere acts of barbarism, but a sacred reenactment of that victory over the dark forces that constantly threatened the stability of the Mexica world. This hill in the middle of the island on the great lakes of Tenochtitlán was the focal point, …  the central point on the vertical plane in which human beings, gods, and their spirits existed. The souls of the Mexica dead went down through nine planes to reach the realm of Mictlán. The gods dwelled on the thirteen higher levels, while at the highest sat the ‘lords of creation’ of the myth, Omeyocan and Ometecuthli. It was the Templo Mayor that offered access to all these worlds.
“But this world was an unstable one, in which the forces of life, the sun, and the water god Tlaloc, who also had his temple at the top of the sacred hill, were constantly threatened. Human sacrifice was needed to ensure that the cycle of life and death continued as it should, with the rebirth of the cosmos at the end of each 52-year period that the Mexica calendar described.
“The Florentine Codex of Mexica history describes this moment of dread, when the Mexica were unsure whether the world would be renewed or come to an end in disaster. As the closing days of the old period approached, everyone in their homes put out their domestic fires, swept the hearths clean, and threw their household gods into the waters of the lake. On the fearful night that had been calculated as the end of one great heavenly cycle, the fire priests and a chosen warrior climbed the Hill of the Star in Tenochtitlán. All the people watching ‘with unwavering attention and necks craned towards the hill became filled with dread that the sun would be destroyed forever.’ The priests watched the progress of the constellation we know as the Pleiades as it moved across the heavens on that one night after 18,980 nights. Seeing that it still moved through the night sky, the priests saw it as the sign that the world had not stopped turning. A small fire was then kindled. The warrior was laid out on the sacrificial stone, ‘then speedily the priests slashed opened the breast with a flint knife, seized the heart, and thrust it into the fire.’ The people of Tenochtitlán cut their ears ‘and spattered their blood in the ritual flicking of fingers in the direction of the fire on the mountain.’ That fire was taken down from the Hill of the Star and conveyed by priests to the Templo Mayor, where it was placed in front of the statue of the god. Messengers and runners then took fire back to all the towns of the empire, where people rekindled their fires, sure in the knowledge that the stars and the sun would continue on their way for another cycle of 52 years.
“However solid and imposing the Great Temple looked to worshippers and to Spaniards alike, the world that revolved around it was a fragile one. And when Cortés and his men arrived toward the close of one of these 52-year cycles, it seemed like a confirmation of the Mexica’s worst forebodings.”
Mexico City: A Cultural and Literary Companion (Cities of the Imagination)

Author: Nick Caistor
Publisher: Interlink Publishing Group
Copyright Nick Caistor 2000
Pages 43-48

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About Us
Delanceyplace.com is a brief daily email with an excerpt or quote we view as interesting or noteworthy, offered with commentary to provide context. There is no theme, except that most excerpts will come from a non-fiction work, mainly works of history, are occasionally controversial, and we hope will have a more universal relevance than simply the subject of the book from which they came.

ancient pensions

Today’s selection — from A History of Public Sector Pensions in the United States by Robert L. Clark, Lee A. Craig, and Jack W. Wilson.  Public pensions, which have become a source of controversy in contemporary finance and politics, have been used since ancient times as a way to engender loyalty among military troops. The problems resulting from pensions were fully present in these earliest programs:


Imperial Roman legionaries in tight formation

“From the Roman Empire to the modern nation state, rulers and parlia­ments have found it expedient to provide pensions for the workers who carried out their policies and, thus, helped perpetuate their regimes. The history of these public sector pension plans is both colorful and instructive. More than two thousand years ago, the fall of the Roman republic and the rise of the empire were inextricably linked to the payment, or rather the nonpayment, of military pensions.

“During the American Revolution army pensions became such a sensitive issue that only the personal interven­tion of George Washington prevented a mutiny of Continental troops over their promised pension payments. In the nineteenth century the U.S. navy pension fund went bankrupt on no fewer than three occasions, only to be bailed out by Congress each time. The management of the navy pension fund involved misfeasance, malfeasance, and nonfeasance of a strikingly bold nature. These and other episodes … provide the reader with a chronology of these historic events and a series of policy lessons pertaining to current employer-based pension plans. …
“It is typically thought that employer-provided pensions in the United States are a relatively recent form of compensation having been introduced by employers late in the nineteenth century or early in the twentieth. This perception is correct concerning private pensions and most public pen­sions for civilian employees; however, pensions for disabled and retired military personnel predate the signing of the U.S. Constitution.
“Military pensions have a long history in Western civilization and have often been used as a key element to attract, retain, and motivate military personnel.”

A History of Public Sector Pensions in the United States

Authors: Robert L. Clark, Lee A. Craig, and Jack W. Wilson
Copyright: 2003 Pension Research Council of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania
Publisher: University of Pennsylvania
Pages: 1-2

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gawking at the inmates of a mental hospital

Today’s selection — from This Way Madness Lies by Mike Jay. Bethlem Royal Hospital was an institution referred to over the centuries of its existence as a madhouse, insane asylum, and mental hospital. Our word “bedlam” comes directly from the colloquial pronunciation of this British institution, which became so famous for the type of patients it served that it became synonymous with madness. To raise money, Bethlem placed donation boxes at its entrance, causing Londoners to throng to it as if to a new attraction, often taunting and gawking at its inmates:
“[Bethlem Royal Hospital was] entrusted with a steadily growing population of troubled and troublesome inmates, most of whom had ended up in Bethlem because everyone else had found them to be unmanageable. These inmates suffered from a variety of untreatable disorders and had nothing to occupy them. The priority of the staff was to maintain order, and the medical regime was deployed to serve this purpose. Bleeding weakened the inmates and made them more tractable; like purging and cold baths, it could be withheld from well-behaved patients and threatened to keep disruptive ones in check. They were ‘treatment’ in the sense of punishment as much as cure.
Tom in Bedlam — A Rake’s Progress
“Pressure on resources led Bethlem to institute the policy that defines it in the public imagination to this day. With the charity of London’s great and good spread
among ever more worthy causes, and income from paying guests limited by [Bethlem’s] grim reputation … the governors decided to install donation boxes at the entrance of the new building and to open it for public visits. Londoners thronged to the new attraction: it joined a tourist trail that included the Tower, the royal palaces, the zoo, the theatres of Covent Garden and the promenade of the Strand. Visiting crowds attracted the same camp followers as elsewhere: street sellers, pickpockets and sex workers. The spectacular facade and grounds were an attraction in their own right, as well as the perfect proscenium for the continuous drama that played inside.
“Many people left written descriptions of their visits and they often appear to have witnessed quite different scenes. There were certainly some visitors of the calibre that the governors had hoped for: ‘persons of quality’ attending in the spirit of charity and donating to the poor boxes, which accrued several hundred pounds a year. Samuel Pepys sent his out-of-town family to visit on their tour of the capital, and James   Boswell noted his visit in his journal. Some visitors recorded pity and compassion for the inmates, whereas others took the experience as a moral lesson, ‘there but for the grace of God go I’. For the serious-minded, a visit to Bethlem was an educative experience. Young people in particular should be shown what madness looked like, and the fate of those who suffered from it, as a warning against the dangers of pride, self· love and indulging the passions at the expense of reason.
“Many visitors were relatives of the inmates, bringing them food and keeping them company. But plenty more came out of frank curiosity or for raucous entertainment. Particularly on Sundays and holidays, the scene in the galleries could be boisterous and rowdy.  Like a ghost train or a freak show — or indeed the surgery and autopsy demonstrations that were also on offer to London public at the time — it offered an extreme but safely contained experience, and a stage on which high-spirited visitors could perform acts of daring or display their wit. Some members of the public mocked and imitated the inmates, or pestered them with questions about why they were locked up. Many inmates gave as good as they got, performing their madness in return, singing ditties or drawing sketches, and earning pennies or drink in reward. … The behaviour of young and drunken men and women, laughing and the hooting, reduced them to the same level as those on the other side of the bars: each was performing for the other, indulging their pride and passions at the expense of their shared humanity. [Thomas] Tryon found the hospital’s regime of bleeding and purging equally cruel and misguided, because in his view madness was not an imbalance of bodily humours but an affliction of the soul. ‘The world,’ he concluded, ‘has become a great Bedlam, where those who are more mad lock up those who are less.’ “

This Way Madness Lies

Author: Mike Jay 
Publisher: Thames & Hudson
Copyright 2016 Mike Jay
Pages 46-52
 

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About Us
Delanceyplace.com is a brief daily email with an excerpt or quote we view as interesting or noteworthy, offered with commentary to provide context. There is no theme, except that most excerpts will come from a non-fiction work, mainly works of history, are occasionally controversial, and we hope will have a more universal relevance than simply the subject of the book from which they came.

hymns work better than sermons — 9/16/15

Martin Luther: Visionary Reformer

Author: Scott H. Hendrix
Publisher: Yale University Press
Copyright 2015 Yale University
Pages 198-199

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Burning the Bible

Today’s selection — from Tudors by Peter Ackroyd. In the Middle Ages, the Church viewed translations of the Bible from ancient languages into English, French and other common languages as heresy, and a direct threat to the importance and power of the Church. William Tyndale, whose English translation of the Bible in 1526 was the first to take advantage of the printing press, was tried on a charge of heresy in 1536 and was condemned to be burned to death for his efforts:

“The threat to the papacy also came from other quarters. [Martin] Luther’s tracts, smuggled into England after he was denounced as a heretic, were followed by William Tyndale’s translation of the New Testa­ment. Tyndale was a young cleric who had become disillusioned with the pomp and power of the Church; he was ascetic and scholarly by nature, and was instinctively attracted to the purer faith associated with the Lollards and the ‘new men’ who were even then in small conventicles proclaiming Lutheran doctrine.
William Tyndale, before being strangled and burned at the stake, cries out, “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes”. Woodcut from Foxe’s Book of Martyrs (1563).
“He had found no employment in London, after he migrated there from Cambridge, and had travelled to Germany in quest of a more tolerant atmosphere. It was here that he translated the Scriptures from the Greek and Hebrew originals. It was said that his passage was assisted by German merchants who were already imbued with Lutheran learning.
“Once he had arrived in Wittenberg, he began his task of translating the Greek into plain and dignified English, in a language that the ploughman as well as the scholar could under­stand. The more orthodox clerics, however, believed that the Scriptures were too sacred to be left in the hands of the laity and that any interpretation of them should only be under clerical supervision. They also believed that the key words of the Greek were in themselves holy, and would be profaned by translation. …
“In effect Tyndale was exorcizing the role of the Church in spiritual matters and placing his faith in an invisible body of the faithful known only to God. … The English Bible came as a sensation and a revelation; its translation was an achievement beyond all the works of ‘new’ theology and pamphlets of anti-clerical disquisition. It hit home, as if God’s truth had finally been revealed. The Bible was no longer a secret and mysterious text, from which short phrases would be muttered by priests; it was now literally an open book.
“The book had been published in the free city of Worms, on the Rhine, and soon after found its way to England where it was secretly distributed. Copies were being sold for 3s 2d. This was the book that the bishop of London described as ‘pestiferous and per­nicious poison’ and, in the winter of 1526, it was solemnly burnt in St Paul’s Churchyard. For the first time in London the Scriptures were consigned to the fire. The prelates would have burnt Tyndale, too, if they could have caught him. The bishop of London bought and burned the entire edition on sale in Antwerp, the principal source of supply, only to discover that he had merely put money in the pockets of the printers and stimulated them to publish another edition.”
Tudors: The History of England from Henry VIII to Elizabeth I
Authors: Peter Ackroyd
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Copyright 2012 by Peter Ackroyd
Pages: 46-47
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