Julian Simon’s life against the grain

I did not meet many of the postwar great thinkers of classical liberalism. There are two exceptions. In 2005 I had a chat with James Buchanan to ask him if I could translate the talk he gave to an audience of graduate students at the IHS summer seminar at the University of Virginia at Charlottesville. He agreed and I translated and published his ideas on ‘the soul of classical liberalism’ in a Dutch liberal periodical.

The other exception is Julian Simon. Perhaps not in the same league as Buchanan, he was certainly a maverick thinker and a classical liberal great. A navy officer, business man, and advertising expert who turned to academia, he is known, to name just a few, for his arguments in the field of population growth, immigration studies and of course the book The Ultimate Resource. In it he argues that all raw materials become cheaper, while humans are the ultimate resource, among many other issues. He also won a famous wager with his critic Paul Ehrlich, stating that the prices of the raw materials Ehrlich could choose (in fact copper, chromium, nickel, tin, tungsten) would decrease (inflation adjusted) over the period of a decade they agreed upon. But that is just the tip of iceberg of this most interesting man. You should really read his autobiography A Life Against the Grain, whenever you have the chance.

In 1995 a friend of mine and I founded the Dutch Benedictus de Spinoza Foundation, meant to group young people educated in (classical) liberalism. In our first public Spinoza-lecture in 1996 Simon agreed to be the speaker. If memory serves right he was on his way to or from a Mont Pelerin Society meeting in Vienna, and was willing to make a small detour. We spent two full days with him, touring The Hague, arranging an interview in a national paper, have a formal dinner with Simon as gues of honor and speaker, and so forth. He was the most congenial guest one can wish. He clearly did not want to be among the hot shots only. In fact he insisted that we should visit ‘the worst neighborhood of the city’. So we went to one of the poorest parts in town, which he found delightful, not because of the (relative) poverty, but because of the multicultural experience and multicultural food at the market.  An other remarkable feature was that in the half hour before we opened the lecture hall, he wished to take a nap on the floor right there!

In his autobiography he is open about his many rejected papers throughout his career, and the way he described how difficult it is to convince academic colleagues of a point that goes against conventional wisdom. No matter how strong the counter-evidence, people will choose to ignore the new facts or insights and keep the author out of the inner circle for as long as possible. I must say it sounds familiar to me, as an author who has attempted to change the views of (classical) liberals and IR theorists on international relations and (classical) liberalism. Even the obvious fact that trade cannot possibly foster peace seems impossible to establish. Alas, reading Simon one also learns to never give up, the truth shall be told, although there is no guarantee of success!

Reflection on the 2020-2021 Job Market

I am happy to report that I have survived the 2021-2021 political science academic job market. I will be a postdoctoral research associate at Princeton University starting September 2021. It is a dual appointment between the Department of Politics and the Center for the Study of Democratic Politics. I also have a few additional appointments, but I am waiting to finalize the paperwork before formally announcing them. Given that the 2020-2021 job market was one of the worst in recent memory due to covid19’s impact on university budgets, I think I did well enough.

I am writing this post in the hope that it can be of some help to others entering future political science job markets. Information is provided as is and I make no promises about getting a job.

My Statistics:

This was my first time on the job market. I come from a top 50 program. I had about 7 peer reviewed articles at the time. My publications in Political Analysis and Legislative Studies Quarterly got me considerable attention.

I applied to approximately 70~80 academic jobs, counting both tenure track and postdoc positions.

I got initial interviews for about a quarter of them. During these interviews (all on zoom), I was asked about my research and teaching. Most of these meetings were between 30 minutes – 1 hour.

I ended up getting job talks for tenure track positions at four research universities (two R1s, two R2s) and one teaching orientated university. Additionally I got offered two job talks for postdoc-to-tenure track positions at two additional research universities. Most of the job talks took approximately a day. The job talks consisted of a job talk (1 hour including Q/A), meeting with faculty and graduate students, and a teaching demonstration.

I ended up getting job offers from three of the above. Additionally, I was the 2nd choice for at least two of the other positions.

I also applied to a few industry jobs – mainly government and think tank research positions.

Job Market Updates:

Most US-based political science jobs will be advertised on APSA’s ejobs website (https://www.apsanet.org/eJobs). You can find jobs in the UK at https://www.jobs.ac.uk/. Additional jobs will be posted on https://www.higheredjobs.com/ and https://academicjobsonline.org/.

I highly encourage future candidates to join the slack: http://supportyourcohort.com/. Candidates on the slack keep each other updated about the progress of searches. Shout out to Alexis Lerner for organizing the slack channel this past cycle.

Types of Jobs:

There are six major types of jobs in the political science job market.

The first major category is tenure track jobs. These are the golden goose most of us are chasing. If you get a tenure track job you will be employed full-time and granted full benefits (healthcare, retirement, etc.). Salaries are in the 60-80k range. There is a lot of heterogeneity within tenure track jobs, but they can be broadly subdivided between research and teaching orientated universities.

Research orientated universities have salaries on the upper range of the salary range. Teaching loads tend to be around “2/2”. This means that you’ll be expected to teach about 2 classes per semester. There isn’t a magic number for tenure, but I was given a ball park estimate of needing 7-10 articles minimum once I went up for tenure.

Teaching orientated universities have salaries on the lower range of the salary range. Teaching loads fluctuate widely. I mostly saw “3/3” positions, but I saw a few positions that were 4 courses a semester. Tenure expectations were 2-5 articles minimum.

The second major category is postdocs. These are usually appointments of 1-2 years and their primary function is to give candidates a chance to spend more time applying for tenure track jobs. Salaries are in the 50-60k range. Most of these positions have minimal teaching obligations.

The third major category is postdoc-to-tenure track positions. These positions start out as postdocs, but have the potential to convert to tenure track positions. Similar to postdocs, these positions have minimal teaching obligations. These positions are increasingly common in midranking universities. Their purpose, as I was told, is to try to win over candidates that show potential. I think they’re also a clever way to solve the lemon problem. When a department hires a candidate they have minimal information about how they’ll fit in with the department’s culture. By hiring candidates as postdocs, the department has the option to not extend the tenure track offer to candidates that end up being lemons after they show up. Salary range is in the 50-60k range.

The fourth major category is adjunct/VAP positions. These are similar to postdocs in that they are usually appointed in the short term. Unlike postdocs, these have high teaching obligations. I have minimal information about these types of jobs, so I defer to others. My sense is to avoid these positions if you plan to go on the market again because their high teaching obligations eat up your time.

The fifth major category is community college jobs. Similar to adjunct/VAP positions, I have minimal information about these so I defer to others with more information. In a few states, including my home state of California, some of these positions get full benefits and are eligible for tenure. If you can get a tenure track community job, the initial salary range is 70-80k. Research obligations are minimal. I actually think these are really good jobs if your passion is teaching. They also offer a high degree of control over your location.

The last major category of jobs is industry. For political scientists these mostly means jobs in government, think tanks, and non-profits. I applied to a few industry jobs and had modest success. The salary range for these jobs seems to be 70-120k with full benefits. These jobs are really tempting because they give you a high degree of control over your location.

Cato’s Slippery Slope: How the Institute of Liberty Squashed Freedom of Speech

Once upon a time there lived a scholar named Andrei Illarionov, a prominent free market economist who at some point became a senior economic advisor to the Russian government at the end of the 1990s. Yet, in the early 2000s, he quit on the new Putin regime.  Illarionov became disgusted with the growing authoritarianism of his boss, who was slowly but surely squashing private businesses, increasing the powers of the secret police (who are the untouchable ruling elite in current Russia) and enlarging governmental bureaucracy.

Andrei Illarionov

The place that gave Illarionov a chance to pursue his scholarship and to further exercise his criticism of the Putin regime was Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank in Washington, DC that hired him in 2006.  Hiring a prominent dissident scholar who quit a lucrative and well-paid governmental position and who was raising his voice against the autocratic regime is very commendable and very libertarian.  Furthermore, after securing his position, Illarionov returned to Russia a few times, where he took part in the antigovernment street protests, firmly supporting anti-Putin opposition forces. 

The professor also became active in social media and on YouTube, drawing millions of viewers on various Russian-language channels and sites.  Besides, he regularly published his pieces in a personal LiveJournal. I liked and agreed with some of his assessments, especially the ones that analyzed the 1990s reforms in Russia, and Putin’s crony capitalism.  I also became drawn to his insights into existing threats to the values of Western civilization coming from the current US and European woke mainstream that increasingly breeds intolerance, “tribalism,” racial animosity, erodes the rule of law, and undermines constitutional values.  At the same time, some of his other assessments aroused my skepticism.

As a popular social scholar, Illarionov became part of current debates in the Russian-speaking internet community, speaking on topics ranging from the Putin regime to the notorious corona and to the woke cancel culture that currently suffocates American pollical, intellectual, and cultural life.  Some people agreed with him, whereas other rebuked him – a normal process in a normal democratic republic.  And everything was OK in the life of the scholar until January 6, when the “storming” of the Capitol building took place and when suddenly the Cato Institute decided to quickly get rid of him.

Now I must expand on what Illarionov said about the January 6 event. This is not to convince the reader whether he was right or wrong but to give some context to the story that will be unfolded below.  For this reason, I ask you to bear with me.  First, the scholar dared to question the validity of the voting in the five swing states and suggested in his Russian-language blog that the whole “storming” business and the passivity of Washington DC officials and the Capitol police, several of whom let the “insurrectionists” in, somewhat reeked of the so-called Reichstag fire – an incident that had opened doors the ascension of totalitarianism in Germany in 1933.

Then, in the same posting he dared to come up with a few other “uncomfortable” statements. For example, Illarionov remarked that, if we went by the one person-one vote rule, the winner of the US elections was clearly Joe Biden; yet, if one went by the constitution (the electoral college), the results of the elections in swing states were rather murky, considering the lax corona mail-in voting rules that were railroaded into our society at the last moment.  By refusing to even consider Trump elections lawsuits, the US court system failed to play the role of an independent umpire and missed the opportunity to validate the quality of the presidential elections in the eyes of people.  Illarionov stressed that, since about 40% of American voters, including 73% Republicans, questioned the results of the swing states’ elections, it was essential to take extra legislative and judicial steps to check and verify those results to regain the popular trust into US electoral, judicial, and political system rather than to simply jump to announce the winner of the 2020 elections.

The scholar also shared his personal experience of being in downtown Washington on January 6 among tens of thousands of protesters who were walking along the Pennsylvania Avenue toward the Capitol and who were insulted by tiny groups of BLM supporters who shouted obscenities at the demonstrators. The latter either responded with such phrases as “Join us” or warned each other by saying, “No violence,” and “Don’t touch them, they want to instigate a fight.”

Illarionov also drew our attention to another “uncomfortable” fact: none of the “insurrectionists” who broke into the Capitol building used weapons against police. Later, FBI confirmed that among all arrested for “storming” the Capitol no one faced firearms-related charged and no arms were recovered.  It was in fact the Capitol police that shot one of the protestors: a veteran air force officer named Ashlie Babbitt; Illarionov nevertheless found it necessary to add that a Capitol police officer was hit in his head by a fire extinguisher, which turned out to be a fake information spread by the mainstream media, including New York Times.  In reality, the man died after the incident and the cause of his death was completely different.  Yet, the mainstream media and democratic legislators for the whole month cynically exploited the original “fact” of his death to amplify “insurrectional” dimension of the January 6 break-in and present the officer as a martyr for the cause of democracy.

A few days after Illarionov came up with those and other LiveJournal remarks, popular Politico condemned him , distorting his utterances and ascribing to him what he never said. Politico insisted that the scholar denied the results of the US elections and argued that January 6 event was a trap set by police following a deliberate provocation by BLM activists with a silent agreement of Democrats.  Ironically, after Cato rushed to ditch Illarionov, it was revealed that, besides Trump supporters who rushed into the building, there was indeed an Antifa and BLM sympathizer, a provocateur named John Earle Sullivan, who too took part in the “storming” of the Capitol.  Sullivan was arrested for vandalism and directly inciting violence while being inside the building. Dressed in a “Trump garb,” he was caught on tape by encouraging the right to be more assertive and aggressive. But the story does not end there. An additional and cruel irony was a publication in Time magazine, a mainstream liberal publication, which literally bragged about how Democrats, “decent” Republicans, Big Tech, and their radical Antifa and BLM informal allies worked together in a united “shadow campaign” to orchestrate changing election rules, purging media of “wrong” opinions, and enhancing mass street protests to “fortify” the elections in the “correct” direction for the greater cause of “saving democracy.”

What was stunning in that situation was not Politico’s public condemnations and bot the content of the scholar’s utterances but a reaction of the Cato Institute, Illariniov’s employer, that too denounced the scholar and began an internal investigation of what he said about the 2020 elections and how he said it, which led to his immediate dismissal a few days later. 

The whole Illarionov incident reveals not only how quickly our intellectual mainstream has degenerated for the past year by moving fast forward toward the elimination of the constitution’s first amendment.  What is the most appalling here is that it was the administration of the libertarian think tank that, instead of dismissing outright any attempt to penalize the scholar for what he said and how he said it, followed the lead of an academic snitch, initiating an investigation and purging him in a lightning speed.  It is hard to figure out what drove the minds of the Cato scholar-bureaucrats when they made an instant decision to crucify Illarionov for saying things they did not agree with. Did Cato fear that, being in the den of the DC “deep state” area where 91% of people vote Democrat, they could be cut from the available publicity venues and networks they established in the Washington area?  Or could it be a simple opportunism – a fear that Cato could become a target of the woke mob if it did not throw the sacrificial lamb to the pack of the cancel culture wolves?

I never heard about progressive scholars losing their jobs over calling Trump an illegitimate president and insisting that the 2016 elections were a fraud perpetrated by massive Russian interference; in fact, it was an acceptable mainstream discourse for the past four years.  Moreover, neither academic nor state and federal bureaucrat was penalized by losing his or her job for endorsing BLM, whose mass rallies last summer were responsible for urban pogroms (destructive property damages in the amount of more than $1 billion, 25 people killed , and 2037 police officers wounded). No academic or politician was disciplined for raising funds to bail out “racial justice” rioters that were looting and burning stores, court houses, smashing statutes, and intimidating people. Both the left and the right know full well that, except spent time, public posturing as a “civil rights activist” or “minority advocate” hardly cost a person anything morally, politically, or financially.  In fact, in government and especially in academia, which is currently held in tight grips of the left hegemony (I have borrowed the latter word from the leftist jargon), such posturing can be an excellent career booster.  The first analogy that comes to my mind in this case is the officially endorsed and politically correct activism, which motivated millions of opportunists and would-be young apparatchiks in “good” old socialist countries of Eastern Europe and Soviet Union. 

I am sure many in academia carry the abovementioned activities on their sleeves as the badge of honor.  In fact, as early as 2011, in several universities, left-leaning instructors began incentivizing students by trying to make a participation in demonstrations for “progressive causes,” including the 2018 Kavanaugh hearings, part of their social science course work and offering students brownie points in a form of extra credits. By the way, among the leftist protesters who “stormed” the Capitol that year, 227 were arrested for obstructing the hearings and harassing congress people they did not like.  Nobody (and rightly so) ever thought about treating them as insurrectionists, and their only penalty was meager fines of $35 to $50. Better than anything, such state of things tells us about who currently represents the power elite in the country and who really calls the shots in our political, intellectual, academic, and cultural mainstream. 

The Illarionov incident is not something extraordinary. It is unfortunately a manifestation of the systemic (another favorite word of choice among the current left) impact of the cancel culture or, putting it simply, an ideological witch hunt, in our cultural and intellectual mainstream.  The cancel culture flourished in earnest last summer, when those people who refused to endorse urban pogroms and false BLM claims about thousands of unarmed black people being murdered by white police were routinely silenced, ostracized, and fired.  National Association for Scholars recorded 128 of cases in US and Canadian universities, where people with predominantly conservative and libertarian views (along with several leftist academics!) were silenced by their schools when they expressed “incorrect” opinions on various racial and political issues. Among them one can find, for example, Professor Gordon Klein, UCLA, who “incorrectly” responded to a request to postpone final exams for black students in his online course (in the wake of the George Floyd death) by saying that he intended to treat everybody equally irrespective of their skin color.  Legal scholar John Eastman from Chapman University made a mistake to speak at the January 6 rally that prompted the university to force him into retirement.  In its turn, Duquesne University immediately fired its professor of educational psychology Gary Shank for using N-word in his class to simply illustrate how the word was used in the past: the professor wanted to make a point about the progress of race relations in US! Even though several of the fired people were restored in their employment, the draconian McCarthyism-like message is very clear: toe the line or else. 

Petrified of potential accusations in racism and bigotry, corporations, universities, state institutions, just in case, literally bow down to the aggressive woke mob, morally disarming themselves and the whole society, planting in our midst the atmosphere of fear and self-censorship that reeks of Stalin’s Russia and Mao’s China during their “best” days. Not infrequently, for the past months, we have been witnessing the communist-style practices when “progressive” people have been routinely denouncing their colleagues and relatives (on many occasions retroactively for past “sins”) for being “reactionaries” and “racists.”  Moreover, most recently, the cancel culture practice has reached grotesque proportions, when family members report to FBI their relatives if they happened to be participants of the Trump January 6 rally.

The Cato Institute that shut down Illarionov should remember the famous “First they came after” confession credo from German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) who referred to the cowardice and compliance of German intellectuals and clergy during the time of national socialism. And sure enough, we already have radical voices among Democrats who have suggested to phase out and deprogram not only conservatives but also libertarians. If current woke censorship and self-censorship escalates further, tomorrow there might be nobody left to protect Cato.  This liberty institute claims that it works to enlighten our society to “better understand and appreciate the principles of government that are set forth in America’s Founding documents.”  Something tells me that the woke mob, which does not care about these founding documents, will not spare the cautious and politically correct preachers of constitutionalism.

Andre Van Doren, a humanities scholar of a Polish-American extract, who is interested in the issues of political economy and culture. He can be contacted at borismoriarti@gmail.com, the list of his publications can be found at https://muckrack.com/andre-van-doren-1

Some Monday Links

The Paris Commune at 150 (The Tablet)

“The greatest legend in proletariat history”, we were told in the modern European history class (back in 2001, probably still a solid claim).

Liberalism and class (Interfluidity)

All Apologies for Democracy (Project Syndicate)

“The German Question” of the 19th century

I know most of NOL‘s American readers are familiar with the German question that puzzled the Allies after World War II, but there was a different German Question that puzzled statesmen and policymakers in the 19th century:

From 1815 to 1866, about 37 independent German-speaking states existed within the German Confederation. The Großdeutsche Lösung (“Greater German solution”) favored unifying all German-speaking peoples under one state, and was promoted by the Austrian Empire and its supporters. The Kleindeutsche Lösung (“Little German solution”) sought only to unify the northern German states and did not include any part of Austria (either its German-inhabited areas or its areas dominated by other ethnic groups); this proposal was favored by the Kingdom of Prussia.

And this:

While a number of factors swayed allegiances in the debate, the most prominent was religion. The Großdeutsche Lösung would have implied a dominant position for Catholic Austria, the largest and most powerful German state of the early 19th century. As a result, Catholics and Austria-friendly states usually favored Großdeutschland. A unification of Germany led by Prussia would mean the domination of the new state by the Protestant House of Hohenzollern, a more palatable option to Protestant northern German states. Another complicating factor was the Austrian Empire’s inclusion of a large number of non-Germans, such as Hungarians, Czechs, South Slavs, Italians, Poles, Ruthenians, Romanians and Slovaks. The Austrians were reluctant to enter a unified Germany if it meant giving up their non-German speaking territories.

This is from Wikipedia, and it appears that the German Question of the 20th century was still the same one as the 19th century. It took an invasion by the Soviet Union and the United States to decisively answer the question. Happy Easter!

How the abolition of slavery led to imperialism

I’ve been saying this for years, so it’s nice to see this out in the open. Behold:

Far from meaning the end of slavery as Western demand for enslaved persons fell, the 19th century saw slavery’s increase in West Africa as a different type of external demand arose. The abolition of the Atlantic slave trade north of the Equator in the first two decades of the 19th century transformed West African economies. It was one of the major factors in the series of economic crises and political revolutions that shaped West African politics until the advent of formal colonialism in the 1880s

This is from Toby Green, an excellent scholar of Africa in the UK.

“The Legacy of Colonial Medicine in Central Africa”

Between 1921 and 1956, French colonial governments organized medical campaigns to treat and prevent sleeping sickness. Villagers were forcibly examined and injected with medications with severe, sometimes fatal, side effects. We digitized 30 years of archival records to document the locations of campaign visits at a granular geographic level for five central African countries. We find that greater campaign exposure reduces vaccination rates and trust in medicine, as measured by willingness to consent to a blood test. We examine relevance for present-day health initiatives; World Bank projects in the health sector are less successful in areas with greater exposure.

Woah, this, from Sara Lowes and Edward Montero, is crazy (link fixed) and hopefully gives pause to colonialism’s few living defenders…

Nighttime blurb

I’ll be honest with you guys, this whole no “nightcap” thing is weird. Every day I have to remind myself that I don’t do nightcaps anymore. I wonder if I have any other habits that I don’t think about. I’m sure I do, but I don’t what they are.

I’ve got a piece on the pre-Westphalian interpolity order I’m working on. It’s slow going, but it’s going. If any of you are experts or (especially) enthusiasts on the Holy Roman Empire, I’d be obliged if you send tips my way. The best read on the Holy Roman Empire so far, for me, has been this one (pdf).

Go Bruins!

Some Tuesday links

  1. Lawyer for the strongman (from my vault, really good and touches upon an important legal aspect of interwar federal Germany)
  2. Burning bones (a “micro” view on a somewhat narrow matter – cremation of the dead, referring to my country! – but it touches upon human rights in a kind-of-weird way. Still interesting I think)
  3. I Have Come to Bury Ayn Rand” (A prominent evolutionary biologist slays the beast of Individualism)

Monetary Tales from the Farthest Shore

The second bank by the sea

My music playlist has nearly stagnated for years and, depending on your age, maybe yours has too. Evidence suggests that (partly) because of mind shenanigans, our musical palette does not quite expand past the age of 30. I think that something similar goes for gaming. I am still fond of those (pc) games from my late teen – early adult years and stay happily ignorant about the newer ones. Those single player games immersed you through substance over eye-candies. Some in-game scenes remain pure gold after all these years. Like that dialogue, when one of my younger siblings was delving in a fictional setting resembling the Caribbean during the Golden Age of Piracy. (Escape from Monkey Island. I preferred RPGs. Nowadays, only books – like this one.)

At some point, the protagonist, a witty swashbuckler, visited the Second Bank of an island called Lucre. “What happened to the First Bank of Lucre?”, he inquired. “Nothing”, said the bank teller, “It was our public relations department’s idea. They felt that being called the ‘First’ bank didn’t project an image of experience”. At the time I thought it as just a funny anachronism. Later, I recognized a jab to brand marketing practices and the corporate-speak more generally. But it was also the scheme of a “fledgling” first banking institution versus a “trustworthy” second one that almost held a real-world analogy. 

Some kind of a theory

There is a rich discussion on the origins of money, its form and the proper control of it, as well as a few historical cases of either state or private currencies thriving – or failing. Hard. In the thick of it, we talk about two positions. From the one hand, the “economics textbook” approach proposes that money emerged in the realm of private economic relations, to minimize transaction costs and facilitate trade. (Francisco d’Anconia would approve.) Here be a decentralized, bottom-up acceptance of the medium of exchange. This view sits well with the classical liberal dichotomy between the civil and state spheres, which can be expanded to envision a very limited role for the state in monetary affairs. From the other hand, the “anthropological – historical” position articulates that trust on money comes mostly from the sovereign’s guarantee, marked by the sign of God and/ or Emperor. This top-down explanation is more receptive to the state control of money, rhyming with the monetary power as a prerogative of the ruler and an expression of sovereignty. 

Beginning with some important judicial decisions in the second half of 19th century, the official assertion of state power over money came in the 20th century. Per the Permanent Court of International Justice, in 1929, “it is indeed a generally accepted principle that a state is entitled to regulate its own currency”. You know, the norm of modern national monetary monopolies. There was a time though, when things were more colorful and less unambiguous. From the 13th century onward to the Golden Age of Piracy and beyond, it was only normal for different monies of various issuers to flow from one territory to the other. Reputable currencies required not only a resilient authority backing them, but also a nod by society and custom. This kind-of-synthesis of the two positions outlined above rung especially true in the case of the young Greek state in 1830s – 1840s. (For this section I draw from the comprehensive “History of the Greek State 1830 – 1920”, by George B. Dertilis [the 2017 Crete University Press edition, in Greek. An extended version, under a different title, is forthcoming in English in 2021/22]. Btw, on Mar. 25 we celebrate 200 years from the Declaration of the Greek Revolution versus the Ottoman rule, an [underrated?] event with connotations of nationalism and liberal constitutionalism.)

Over there at the (Balkan) shore

As the new state needed to break free from all the institutions of Ottoman Empire, its hastily assembled first Bank of Issue sought to introduce a new national currency (the Phoenix). The impoverished, ravaged and cut off from international debt markets nascent state reflected bad upon the Bank. The government tried to force public’s trust via legislation. By decree, payments from/ to the state coffers would include a mandatory percentage of the new banknotes (later the percentage was set at 100%). Revenue from state natural resources – present and future – would back the currency. The administrative magic did not do it. The public actively tried to avoid the Phoenix banknotes, in favor of traditional silver/ gold coins. Bank and currency failed to crowd out the foreign monies and ultimately went out of business. A few years later, the overall environment had improved somewhat and a more vigorous state established the second Bank of Issue. Another new national currency, the Drachma, was already circulating in – copper – coins along with the foreign ones. 

The second Bank received an exclusive charter of issue and undertook the task to roll-out the Drachma banknotes (silver/ gold coins would follow) and, in doing so, integrate the fragmented Greek countryside to a more cohesive national economy. Up until then, the local markets had operated as loosely hierarchical oligopolies. At the bottom of the chain, each small village or group of villages was dependent on a merchant-money lender who held monopsonistic power over the (tiny scale) agricultural production and, at the same time, monopolistic power in cash and credit. These rural businessmen depended on the respective merchant-money lender of the nearest town for brokerage. Next in line was the merchant-money lender of the nearest city, usually with access to international trade routes. You get the picture. These informal networks contained competition among neighboring lesser merchant-money lenders and promoted trade through a complex web of transactions (involving forward contracts, insurance premiums and bills of exchange, among others). (The official site for the anniversary features a fancy piece about the first attempts to establish a national bank as well. It includes a few names and dates, while noticing the “exploitative” networks and the “primitive” credit system .I find its lack of nuance disturbing somewhat misleading.)

Becoming one with the forces

The Bank opted to tap and complement the existing disjointed market forces, in order to gently nudge them. It channeled its primary tool, lending in banknotes, to the local money markets, firstly, to a limited number of large merchant-money lenders, later to the middle ones. (According to the Bank’s ledgers, these clients usually chose respectable job titles, such as “Banker” or “Broker”. Others, a bit blunter, went by the Greek equivalent of “Usurer”.) This lending – apart from being short-term, relatively safe and profitable – enabled the Bank to gradually assume a leading position, without the need to deep dive at the specifics of each end-user of the market. The soft, indirect entry in the century-old customary networks lowered the cost of money and contributed to the integration of the national economy. The transition was not always smooth, with the occasional episode (people switching from banknotes to metallic coins, the Bank returning the favor by aggressively cutting back lending, the government setting compulsory percentages etc  – you know the drill), but still, the stakeholders’ incentives aligned. Society at large recognized Bank and currency, with the system reaching a workable equilibrium

The merchant-money lender of old was finally phased-out by regular bank lending in the next decades. Further underpinned by a cozy relationship with the state (always a valuable client, usually a partner, sometimes even an opponent), the Bank acted as a quasi-central banking institution until 1928, when the charter was transferred to the newly found Bank of Greece. The Drachma continued as official legal tender (albeit with numerous conversions) until the end of 2001.

Charter cities aren’t all that libertarian, and I doubt they’ll work either

Is economist Tyler Cowen bullish on a new charter city in Honduras? He says he’ll go and report on it if it ever gets off the ground. But let’s be honest with ourselves, it’s not going to ever get off the ground. Why? Two reasons. First (from Cowen’s excerpt):

It has its own constitution of sorts and a 3,500-page legal code with frameworks for political representation and the resolution of legal disputes

This is too many rules and not enough boundaries. A constitution of sorts? 3,500 pages of legal code, based off of…what, exactly? Some guys decided that they could purchase sovereignty (not a bad idea, actually) and then create – out of thin air and by using heterodox economic theory as their guide – all of the rules and regulations that this sovereign body would need to govern effectively? Did I get this right?

Second, when has a top-down central planning ever worked for something like this? Top-down central planning barely works for corporations when they reach a certain size threshold, and we all know how well this type of planning works in the public sphere. Even the U.S. federation – which can be considered a sort of top-down plan from a certain point of view – was built on top of already existing politico-legal institutions. Hong Kong and Singapore, two city-states that have long been the apple of libertarian eyes, were around long before they became city-states in the Westphalian state system. The British just grafted their imperial system onto already-existing indigenous politico-legal orders.

This charter city in Honduras is (I am assuming) not grafting itself onto an already existing indigenous politico-legal order. It is trying to forge an entirely new system out of thin air. That’s too rich for my blood.

Who invented chicken nuggets?

Some dude named Robert C Baker:

Baker’s innovation was to mold boneless bite-size morsels from ground, skinless chicken (often from the little-used parts of the bird), and encase them in a breading perfectly engineered to solve two key problems: It stayed put through both frying and freezing, critical for mass production and transportation. 

Like all things “American,” chicken nuggets started with World War II:

During World War II, chicken became many Americans’ primary source of protein after the U.S. military commandeered red meat for soldiers, creating a beef shortage at home. The massive chicken demand incentivized businesses to produce the birds more cheaply, says anthropologist Steve Striffler

Read the rest, and I’d be in big trouble without Chicken McNuggets on road trips…

Nightcap: the end

Folks, I’ve got a ton of writing projects on my plate. I am trying to make the switch from non-fiction to fiction, too. Oh, and I have a small family now. And a career in the private sector that is going quite well. My priorities have changed.

I’ll still be blogging here, of course, but the “nightcaps” are done.

It’s weird how life changes. It’s weird to think that I’ve hitchhiked through Mexico, the U.S., Spain, Italy, Portugal, and France. I lived in Ghana. I did drugs. I listened to political hip-hop and punk rock. I’m a dad now. My oldest child will be 4 soon. I don’t even listen to music anymore. I just sing along with the kids to Mary Poppins songs. Did any of that stuff I learned while young mean anything?

My devotion to liberty has changed, too. I’m not as political as I once was. I’m not as important as I once thought. My voice really doesn’t matter all that much, at least in the public sphere. I don’t vote in American elections, but I do vote at shareholder meetings. My life has shifted inward. My private lives are much more fulfilling than the public ones. At least in this new phase of my life.

Have a good weekend!

Francophonie et connerie

Comme c’est souvent le cas le soir, je lézarde devant TV5, la chaîne francophone internationale. C’est l’heure du journal télévisé. L’annonceur, francais selon sa diction, annonce gravement que ce jour est l’anniversaire de la mort des époux Rosenberg, exécutés en 1953 “parce qu’ils étaient Communistes”. Comme, à cette époque, il y avait au moins 100 000 Communistes aux Eats-Unis, ces deux-là n’auraient vraiment pas eu de chance!

Un autre jour, je regarde un documentaire français: “Gharjuwa, épouse de la vallée.”  C’est sur une ethnie népalaise qui pratique la polyandrie: une femme, plusieurs maris. Le sujet est intrinsèquement intéressant, Et puis, le fait que la femme polygame ait le gros sourire aux lèvres tout le long de l’interview confirme pas mal de mes à-priori sur ce qui rend les femmes heureuses, en fin de compte! (Ce n’est pas sorcier.) Et puis, le tout se passe dans un environnement montagneux magnifique. Comme c’est le cas pour la plupart des documentaires français que je connais, la photo est excellente.

L’une des tâches de la femme polygame est de préparer la bière. Une voix masculine dit le commentaire en Français. Soyons francs: je ne sais pas si c’est le commentateur qui a rédigé le texte. En tous cas, il nous avise de ce qu’au Népal, la bière ménagère se prépare en faisant “cuire ensemble” une céréale (ou plusieurs; maïs ou blé noir, ou les deux, je ne suis pas sûr) et de la levure. Je fais un retour en arrière mental. C’est bien ce qu’il a dit. Mais, la levure, c’est ce qui transforme les sucres des céréales en alcool et en CO2. Mais la levure se compose d’organisme vivants qui trépassent vite à la chaleur. Pas question de la faire cuire avant qu’elle ait fait son travail. Ou alors, on a de la bouillie plutôt que de la bière. La description qu’on nous donne  est donc aussi fausse qu’absurde.

A priori, selon son accent et sa diction, le commentateur est français ou belge. Il vient donc d’un pays célébré dans le monde entier pour ses vins et aussi pour ses bières, ou alors, massivement, seulement pour ses bières. Des pays respectés aussi pour la supériorite de leur boulangerie et de leurs pâtisseries levées. Vins, bières, pains, pâtisseries exigent la maîtrise des levures. Comment peut-on être aussi ignorant d’une partie aussi importante de sa culture materiélle pourtant séculaire? Et puis, je sais bien qu’en principe, l’ignorance et la connerie sont des choses différentes. Pourtant, il y a des cas où on a du mal a distinguer l’une de l’autre. Je me demande comment on peut avoir été élevé dans la culture française ou la culture belge et être si profondément mal informé, à moins d’être également stupide.

Mais j’éprouve aussi de l’indignation comme ainsi dire au second degré: Comment les public francais et autres francophones peuvent-ils laisser passer de telles manifestations d’ignardise grossière sans se plaindre, sans réagir? Le fait est courant, répandu selon mon usage de l’éventail, il est vrai limité, de media francophones à ma disposition. J’ai d’ailleurs inventé la formule suivante, (en Anglais) : “Si vous voulez apprendre rapidement quelquechose de faux, suivez simplement les cinq premières minutes d’un documentaire en Français!”

J’ai du mal à souscrire à l’idee que la langue francaiss, la langue de Diderot, serait intrinsèquement porteuse d’insouciance vis-à-vis de la vérité toute simple bien que cela ne soit pas complètement impossible.

Je m’interroge donc sur les possible causes sociologique de ce qui me paraît plus qu’un accident. Je veux parler de l’apparente indifférence aux faits associée à l’usage de la langue française contemporaine. Je ne sais pas s’il s’agit vraiment d’ un phénomène culturel en profondeur: Les faussetés ne dérangent simplement pas beaucoup les Francais. (Il me semble, subjectivement, que les autres francophones, Canadiens, et Belges, par exemple, sont moins coupables.) Je me demande si les causes des ces frequentes débâcles factuelles sont plus tortueuses et donc, moins directement culturelles:

“France 2 fait un documentaires sur les Népalaise à plusieurs maris. C’est chouette. Je vais téléphoner à Robert pour lui demander s’il peut prendre mon neveu Charlot pour le narrer. Justement, en ce moment, il ne fait pas grandchose.”

De vraies questions. Toutes les réponse m’intéressent, celles provenant de France autant que celle émanant d’autres pays francophones. Ecrire à jdelacroixliberte@gmail.com.

Le beau et ignare documentaire en question sort de chez Atmosphère  Production  avec le concours du Centre national du cinéma. (“Evidemment”, j’ai envie de d’ajouter.)


  1. The red pill for philosophers and scientists Nick Nielsen, Grand Strategy Annex
  2. “Lived experience” and the Word of God Brendan O’Neill, spiked!
  3. The immigrant’s vote of confidence in America John McGinnis, Law & Liberty
  4. How the world gave up on the stateless Udi Greenberg, New Republic