Nixon to Moscow, slavery’s toll on the economy

My latest is up over at RealClearHistory. An excerpt:

Nixon’s anti-Communist credentials were so sound that he could spend political capital making inroads with Communist enemies. His actions were viewed as safe by the American electorate because, for better or worse, the public saw Nixon as somebody who would not betray American values at the negotiating table with the Soviets. Nixon’s hawkishness provided moral cover for America’s withdrawal from Vietnam, and its peaceful overtures to the two most powerful and aggressively anti-capitalist regimes in the world (China and the USSR).

Please, read the whole thing.

Vincent has a great review up on Robert Wright’s new book about slavery, too. It’s at EH.net, a website dedicated to economic history, and here is an excerpt:

All of these amount to the same core point, those who reap the private benefits of slavery are content with their gains even though they come at a larger social cost and they will work to find ways to drive a wider wedge between the two by shifting costs onto other parties. Hence, slavery as pollution.

More here.

Explaining Jair Bolsonaro to non-Brazilians

I wrote about Jair Bolsonaro here some time ago, but I believe that, with the recent political changes in Brazil, it is worthy to write about him again.

Jair Messias Bolsonaro is a pre-candidate to the Brazilian presidency. Elections will happen in October, and so, following Brazilian electoral law, his candidacy won’t be official until later this year. However, it is already very public that he is going to run for president of the country.

Bolsonaro has been a congressman from Rio de Janeiro state since the 1990s, but he only achieved national notoriety fairly recently, during the last decade of government by the Worker’s Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores, PT, in Portuguese). A former captain of the Brazilian army, he entered politics mainly to defend the interests of his colleagues. As with much of South America at some point between the 1960s and 1980s, Brazil was ruled by the military from 1964 to 1985. Since those governments, there is a tendency of loss of prestige of the armed forces in the country. Bolsonaro defended simply better pay and better work conditions for his fellow soldiers.

In the 1990s he opposed several policies of the Fernando Henrique Cardoso (FHC) government. FHC was responsible for bringing Brazil closer to the Washington Consensus, modernizing the Brazilian economy in many ways. Bolsonaro, however, believed that FHC was selling Brazil to foreigners. Ironically, in that opinion, he was in the company of the Worker’s Party. When the Worker’s Party came to power in 2003, Bolsonaro remained in silence for quite a while. His public opposition to the Lula and Dilma governments began only when the Ministry of Education tried to send to public schools material concerning gender ideology. Bolsonaro and others saw in that an infringement of the separation between the responsibilities of church, government, and state.

Because of his opposition to gender ideology in public schools, Bolsonaro is constantly unjustly accused of misogyny and homophobia, something silly to say the least. Bolsonaro is not a hater of women and homosexuals, at least not more than the majority of the Brazilians. The only thing one can say about him is that, as with many Brazilians, he is very crude with his language. One anecdote might help to explain. When Bolsonaro was already father to four sons, he had his first daughter. Joking, he told his friends that “he’d got weaker.” To many in the Brazilian leftist press, this means that Bolsonaro thinks that women are lesser than men. The same press, however, is not as judicial with the language of other politicians, including former president Lula da Silva, who commonly makes much worse statements. Bolsonaro’s every statement has been scrutinized by people on the left searching for something to blame.

The truth is that apparently unknowingly, Bolsonaro was one of the first Brazilian politicians to consistently fight against Gramscianism. I explain. As I was saying before, from 1964 to 1985 Brazil was ruled by the military. This happened because since the 1920s Brazil was a target of influence by the USSR. Luís Carlos Prestes, one of the most important historical leaders of the Brazilian Communist Party (Partido Comunista Brasileiro, PCB, in Portuguese), trained in the Soviet Union in the 1930s. All leftist parties in Brazil today (including the Worker’s Party) have some historical connection to the PCB. The Soviets (and Chinese, and Cubans) intensified their pressure on Brazil in the 1950s and 1960s. The result was that the vast majority of Brazilian society urged the militaries to take power in 1964.

The armed forces were great in fighting the conventional war against the communists, defeating several guerrillas in the Brazilian interior. But they were simply awful in fighting the cultural war. Early on, many on the Brazilian left noticed that they shouldn’t fight the government in a conventional Marxist-Leninist style, trying to come to power by force. Instead, they should follow Italian socialist leader Antonio Gramsci, and get to power winning hearts and minds first. And so they did. While the soldiers were busy fighting guerrillas, communist occupied schools, universities, the press, and even churches (mainly the Roman Catholic) by the Liberation Theology.

Thanks to Gramsci and his followers, when the military regime was over, Brazilian culture was majorly leaning to the left. The Worker’s Party, publicly socialist, came to power not by force, but by votes. However, Marxism as an economic agenda died a long ago. Lula and Dilma know perfectly well that classical liberalism is the way to go in economics. The aim of the Worker’s Party and associated political groups – most of whom are economically illiterate – is to transform culture. In post-marxism, the “oppressed” are no longer the factory workers, but women, homosexuals, blacks and however fits their agenda for power. We have to sympathize with some of the leftist agenda in Brazil. Historically, thanks to the false capitalism practiced there, Brazil was not a good place for minorities. The individual was never privileged in Brazil. However, the leftist solution (socialism) only makes things worse. Many countries in Latin America, starting with Cuba and Venezuela, can testify to that.

Back to Jair Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro came to the opposition of the Worker’s Party because of the falsely progressive agenda the ruling party was trying to implement. However, since then, Bolsonaro is becoming more and more convinced of the entirety of the liberal-conservative agenda, including its economics. By liberal-conservative I mean the tradition of John Locke, Adam Smith, the Founding Fathers, Edmund Burke, Von Mises and others. Bolsonaro was intelligent and honest enough to cry that “the king is naked.” The Brazilian left doesn’t care about minorities. If they did, they would be conservative or libertarian. Classical liberal ideas have a proven record of helping the poor and the oppressed. Socialism continues to hurt everybody but the very few in power.

The leftist media covering Brazil is frightened and trying everything possible to denigrate Bolsonaro. However, so far their strategy is backfiring. Bolsonaro’s popularity in Brazil grows with every attack. On the internet, his followers call him “Mito” (Myth, in Portuguese). In every city that he visits he is followed by a large crowd of fans. In that sense, he is very much a Brazilian Donald Trump. The left insisted so much on talking about minorities that now the large minority that doesn’t fit into leftist stereotypes found his candidate.

Brazil has severe problems and one solution: rule of law. Bolsonaro seems to be not a populist, but someone who understands that society and economy need order to thrive. And it is becoming very apparent that, to the despair of the left, he might be the next Brazilian president.

Lunchtime Links

  1. High Hitler (drugs, drugs, drugs!)
  2. every generation gets the drugs it deserves
  3. Lawsplainer on federal and state marijuana laws
  4. why illegally obtained evidence is generally inadmissible in court
  5. Putin and patriotism: national pride after the fall of the Soviet Union (excerpt)
  6. long, fraught history of Pakistan and the US
  7. Old Dogs, New Tricks: Turkey and the Kurds
  8. Good piece, but I’m still waiting for a great book (or article) on the Hanseatic League. All the great ones are probably in German…

Communist Yugoslavia

Below is an excerpt from my book I Used to Be French: an Immature Autobiography. You can buy it on amazon here.


I was led into a large cell with an arching stone ceiling I would have called a dungeon except that it was harshly lit. There were about twenty-five men in the room, mostly in their late twenties. They greeted me loudly in their language. An older man who looked vaguely middle class because he wore a suit (without a tie) asked me in Italian where I was from. There were five or six blankets altogether. A tall, bony guy with the ravaged face of an operetta brigand requisitioned two and handed them to me. Then, we all lined up for whole-grain bread and soup. (Yes, whole-grain used to be the cheapest before it became fashionable, in the seventies.) The brigand pushed me to the head of the line. Then he showed me that you had to dunk the hard bread into the soup to soften it. After dinner, I had a long, civilized conversation with the old man, he speaking Italian and I, French. He told me that most of my cellmates were returning from Germany where they had gone to work without a proper Yugoslav exit visa, and that they were awaiting trial for that low-grade offense. “Why don’t they look more worried?”- I asked. (The mood was, in fact, downright merry.) He told me each would get a few months in the poker but that the cars they had bought in Germany with their earnings would be awaiting them when they got out. In fact, he said, the jail had a parking lot reserved for that usage. Real communism, communism as it existed, communism with a small “c,” was not simple!

As evening came, the inmates prepared for bed in their own rudimentary ways. There was tenseness when the brigand signaled for me to set down my two blankets next to him, on a raised wooden platform. I was old enough to doubt a free lunch existed. I perceived that I was the cutest thing in the joint, and the youngest! With no gracious way to escape, I did as he suggested. Tension turned into panic when he took my head into the crook of his arm. I withdrew brusquely. He delivered himself of a vociferous and loud speech that I guessed was at once re-assuring and reproachful. There was probably no ambiguity in his gesture. Yugoslavia was the beginning of the mysterious Orient, deep into Western Europe, with different customs. Later, I saw soldiers, and once, a pair of policemen, walking peaceably hand in hand. The brigand had just adopted me as a brother. He was no jail predator. For all I know, he had protected me from the real thing.

Strange Historical Facts

Not long thereafter, they erected the first sawmill in what was to become the state of Washington on a site by the lower falls of the Deschutes River. Much of the capital for erecting the mill apparently came from George W. Bush, Washington’s first black resident. The cut of this mill, it has been claimed, was marketed through the Hudson’s Bay Company at Fort Nisqually and found its way to Victoria and the Hawaiian Islands. The first shipment was supposedly made on the Hudson’s Bay Company steamer Beaver in 1848.

Um, wow. I don’t know where to begin. This excerpt comes from page 25 of a 1977 book by historian Thomas R Cox titled Mills and Markets: A History of the Pacific Coast Lumber Industry to 1900. Aside from the interesting anecdote quoted above, it’s not very good. I picked it up because of the possibilities associated with such a subject, but instead of a theoretical narrative on globalization, identity, state-building, and property rights, it is a book that reads a lot like the excerpt I quoted above (the local history aspect I have enjoyed, though; local history is one of my secret pleasures, the kind of stuff that never makes it into grand theoretical treatises but always lights up my brain because of the fact that places I know and places I have lived are the focus of the narrative).

I blame it on the year it was published, of course. 1977 was at the height of the Cold War, which means that scholarly inquiry was inevitably going to be policed by ideologues, and also that works appraising global or regional scales and scopes just weren’t doable. For instance, there was virtually no mention of Natives in the book. (See archaeologist Kent Lightfoot’s excellent, highly-recommended work – start here and here – for more on how this is changing.)

Gun Rights, the Black Panthers, and ‘the South’ in the United States

From a report by Aaron Lake Smith in Vice:

The Dallas New Black Panthers have been carrying guns for years. In an effort to ratchet up their organizing efforts, they formed the Huey P. Newton Gun Club, uniting five local black and brown paramilitary organizations under a single banner. “We accept all oppressed people of color with weapons,” Darren X, who is 48, tells me in a deep, authoritative baritone. “The complete agenda involves going into our communities and educating our people on federal, state, and local gun laws. We want to stop fratricide, genocide—all the ‘cides.”

Interesting, and brings up the question: will the NRA support their right to bear arms, or will they revert to their early 20th century stance and begin supporting gun control again? Also in the article is a bit of history:

The seeds of what was to become the Black Panther Party lie in the 1940s, when black veterans returned to the South after fighting in World War II and found themselves dehumanized by segregation.

I’ve often wondered about this. The desegregation of the South and the achievements of the Civil Rights movement were perhaps the greatest human accomplishments to come out of World War 2 and the Cold War, and this has startling implications for libertarians who advocate for a hardline non-interventionist foreign policy. Libertarians in the US point out that worldwide empire is bad, even a liberal empire, but without it I don’t see a Civil Rights movement happening (which in turn means nobody in the developing world has a model to look up to).

After Germany and Japan surrendered Washington was forced to cede political rights to blacks because of the hypocrisy that pro-rights marches highlighted to the world. The US was engaged in a propaganda war with the USSR, and the segregation of blacks and whites in the US was very bad press. Without the Cold War, blacks would probably have remained official second-class in the US (and the world). Libertarians should be proud of the Civil Rights movement, even if the legislation passed didn’t conform perfectly with individual rights (i.e. affirmative action instead of reparations, or nothing but individual rights!) and even if blacks got their individual rights through legislation rather than law.

Smith’s reporting in other places is less than convincing, though:

Shootings of civilians by police officers reached a 20-year peak in 2013, even as the incidence of violent crime in America went down overall.

I believe that the shooting of “civilians” by police officers is a violent crime, but unless I am missing something Vice simply treats the data as if shootings by police officers are different from shootings by people who are not police officers. Nothing will change as long as this kind of mindset is prevalent in the US. I understand that police officers have a job to do, and that their job makes them different from people who do other jobs (say, a doctor or a lawyer), but it does not place them above the law.

Also, a more disturbing implication of this would be that a more violent police force decreases crime. This is not discussed by libertarians or left-liberals. I don’t like it, but it cannot be ruled out as a possibility just yet. I hope somebody will debunk my notion in the ‘comments’.

One last fascinating tidbit from the article is the difference between the old leaders of the Black Panthers (one who claimed that the Koch Brothers are behind everything, thus showing – to me, anyway – that hippies and Black Panthers have more Baby Boomer similarities with each other than they’d like to admit) and the new leaders (“all power to all people,” including gun rights). Racism is so interesting to me in the American context because of the demographic perceptions amongst other reasons). My parents and grandparents have very different types of racist assumptions than I do, but I’m getting way too far ahead of myself. More on American racism later, or just take me to task in the ‘comments’ section!

(h/t Chris Blattman)