To hear it told in the European press (well really, to hear it told just about everywhere), the horror of "austerity" presently looms over Europe like some dark specter that draws energy from the state, sucking the color right out of its flagging host as it mercilessly exsanguinates cash, growth and hope from an otherwise chaste, vulnerable and pious body politic. (Fiscal vampires prefer catholic virgins, you understand). Even The Telegraph's normally moderate and sage International Business Editor Ambrose Evans-Pritchard seems to have been taken in by the methodical, decades-long campaign to conflate state spending and growth- a premise as manifestly absurd as it is widely accepted. To wit, Evans-Pritchard's May 15th piece on Italy bears the sub-header:
As Greece erupts, Italy is moving into the eye of the storm. Its economy is contracting at speeds not seen since the depths of the slump in 2009 as draconian austerity bites, greatly increasing the risk of social revolt and a banking crisis. (Emphasis added).1
Of course, it is entirely possible that Evans-Pritchard's editor was responsible for that little edition, given that the tone of the article's body treads with a much lighter foot. Even so, the tenor of the piece follows a regular, and regrettable, pattern:
Rising anger has led to a spate of violent attacks by terrorist groups over recent weeks, all too like the traumatic 'years of lead' in the late 1970s. The government is mulling use of troops to protect targets after anarchists shot the head of Ansaldo Nucleare last week and hurled petrol bombs at tax offices.2
Read: "If the Germans don't pay us, there will be revolution. The Germans better damn well pay us."
Angelo Drusiani from Banca Albertini said the only way to avert catstrophe is to convert the European Central Bank into a lender of last resort. Otherwise Italy faces "massive devaluation, three to five years of hyperinflation, and unbearable unemployment."3
Read: "If the Germans don't pay us, there will be revolution. The Germans better damn well pay us."
The Italian Banking Association ABI accused Moody's of an "irresponsible, incomprehensible, and unjustifiable" smear. "Moody's decision is an attack on Italy, its companies, its families and its citizens," it said, calling on the EU authorities to clamp down "severely" on rating agencies.4
Read: "'Shut up,' they explained."
- 1. Evans-Pritchard, Ambrose, "Italy's Banks Shaken as Economic Slump Deepens," The Telegraph (May 15, 2012).
- 2. Ibid.
- 3. Ibid.
- 4. Ibid.
To finem respice's way of thinking, the reputation generally afforded Armand Jean du Plessis (the Cardinal Richelieu) as the father of the modern state and modern statecraft is somewhat inflated. The Parisian statesman is routinely credited with exercising a keen financial genius on behalf of the state, winning the "Thirty Years' War" for France, and ushering in a period of enduring French hegemony during his tenure as Louis XIII's "first minister" between 1624 and 1642. All this despite the fact that he left the Royal Treasury nearly empty, the treaties of Osnabrück and Münster (known along with the Peace of Münster as the "Peace of Westphalia") were actually signed six years after his death, and that France's continental domination is generally accepted to have begun much later.
If anything, it is much more accurate to understand Richelieu as one of the early pioneers of authoritarian centralization, a master at manipulating (and a massive beneficiary of) state-dominated crony capitalism of a kind that would not again see the light of day for nearly three centuries, an ingenious architect of novel, punitive, and highly regressive tax schemes disguised as progressive revenue raising initiatives, and a shameless employer of insider dealing.
In short: He was French....continue reading and rate this entry.
Apparently it has somehow become popular in the United States over the last several days to itemize up the costs of feminine hygiene products, contraception (including hormone therapy used to deal with "irregular menses, dysmenorrhea, vaginal bleeding, ruptured cysts, or hemorrhagic cyst [sic]"),1 depilatory, and grooming products and use these figures to make the case that somehow women are a special healthcare case (that is, at least more special than men), and therefore prophylactic (if you will forgive the term) health care entitlements, in the form of expansive "insurance" of course, are critical to social justice. (I am reminded that finem respice touched on this subject years ago with The Clandestine Risk Free Lunch Subsidy). To wit, Jezebel's editor Tracie Egan Morrissey's latest missive: "This is How Much it Costs to Own a Vagina: An Itemized List."
Obviously, any knave so callous as to attempt to argue this point must be part of the vast right-wing conspiracy to steal the ladyparts of unwitting citizens.
Americans, your country is doomed.
- 1. Morrissey, Tracie Egan, "This is How Much it Costs to Own a Vagina: An Itemized List," Jezebel (April 6, 2012).
An interesting (if somewhat archaic) feature of contemporary American political discourse that characterizes its last half decade is the propensity for Founder worship. In the context of what one hopes is the death rattle of the welfare state, the great clash between neo-liberal and conservative (perhaps even neo-conservative) forces in the United States is nearly (but not quite yet) joined. But when it comes to taking sides finem respice grows decidedly despondent. After all, there is no free-market party in the United States any longer- and on reflection one might ask: "since the post war period, has there ever been?" Be this as it may, however, it isn't difficult to surmise that the catalyzing agent for this conflict is the impending collapse of the quasi-socialist "blue model" and, depending on the degree of pessimism one possesses, the collateral doom of Western democracies. And finem respice must, by necessity, use this term "Western democracies" rather expansively.
Certainly the sovereigns in the European Union, being subject to the whim of unelected officials in Brussels on almost every matter from product labeling to agricultural and fiscal policy, look nothing like "democracies" anymore. How else does one explain the situation in Greece, where the embattled prime minister's efforts to "go to the people" and hold a national referendum on European Union aid packages resulted not only in no referendum, but also in his prompt sacking... by the European Union. (!) Sad tidings for the cradle of modern democracy, no?
But in the United States such push back against the slow but unending accretion of the state as has found root in the new right (same as the old right) seems to rely on rather dubious windows-into-the-soul making speculation chased immediately with a stiff shot of intellectual time travel. What would Jefferson say? What would Adams think? How would Hamilton react? Won't William Few protest? (Ok, no one actually knows that William Few was a Founding Father. This is illuminating.)...continue reading and rate this entry.
It is quite an undertaking to execute (as opposed to, say, simply murder) a sovereign. Certainly, the nation's accuser, Bertrand Barère de Vieuzac, could not but have trembled, just a little, preparing himself to walk out into the chamber of the National Convention, such as it was. And, without doubt, those many years ago in the chill of December 1792, the French son of a lawyer must have cleared his throat quite pointedly before admitting to the National Convention the theretofore unprecedented "Rapport sur la conduite de Louis XVI depuis le commencement de la revolution, fair par Robert Lindet au nom de la commission des vingt-un." ("Report on the conduct of Louis XVI since the beginning of the revolution made by Robert Lindet in the name of the commission of twenty-one"), a literal narrative of the Convention's version of their grievances against the royal person, and the "Acte enonciatif des crimes de Louis" ("Act of enunciation of the crimes of Louis"), crude sort of 33 point indictment against the Bourbon monarch that was distilled from that narrative.
It would be quite difficult to overstate the degree to which the atmosphere in the France of 1792 was charged. The National Convention, for example, faced open hostilities between waring revolutionary factions inside it, the Jacobins and the Girondins in particular. This was severely complicated by the presence a wound-up and even slightly power-mad population that regularly exhibited a level of blood lust- certainly aroused by the surprisingly effective press and pamphlet infrastructure1 2 that characterized the French Fourth Estate at the time- that seriously alarmed the more moderate (relatively speaking) contemporaries of the French revolutionary elite.
- 1. The works of Darnton on this subject should be considered mandatory reading: Darnton, Robert "An Early Information Society: News and the Media in Eighteenth-Century Paris" (Presidential Address to the American Historical Association) Volume 105, Number 1, The American Historical Review (January 5, 2000).
- 2. See Also: Private, Equity, "Let Them Eat High Speed Rail," finem respice (March 28, 2011).
Apparently, it is fashionable this week (mostly among members of the Occupy movement) to suggest that the sudden shift in venue for the G-8 summit from Chicago to Camp David on Monday proves that Obama is afraid of the Occupy movement. Ugly protest scenes so close to a difficult re-election effort could get... well... ugly, the reasoning goes. And Occupy certainly does seem to have slipped her bridle given that every time one sees her gallop past she is riderless and bucking wildly. But if one is going to engage in rank speculation why focus on such an absurdly obvious and base analysis? Fortunately, finem respice has a much more obvious, ranker, and decidedly more absurd explanation for the mercurial nature of the G-8 invitation engraving order.
Near as we can tell the Occupy brag goes something like this:
Chicago was selected for the 38th G-8 Summit back in mid-2011. June 22, 2011, in fact, was the semi-official announcement. There was no "Occupy" movement yet (here, let me get you some tissue). Since the presence of the Occupy movement is all that has changed in the intervening months, Occupy's later emergence has clearly scared the Obama administration into fearful and last minute scatterings away from Chicago because bad press and the Chicago Police cracking skulls is lethal this close to an election.
Absolute nonsense....continue reading and rate this entry.
"Ideology is a specious way of relating to the world. It offers human beings the illusion of an identity, of dignity, and of morality while making it easier for them to part with them. As the repository of something suprapersonal and objective, it enables people to deceive their conscience and conceal their true position and their inglorious modus vivendi, both from the world and from themselves. It is a very pragmatic but, at the same time, an apparently dignified way of legitimizing what is above, below, and on either side. It is directed toward people and toward God. It is a veil behind which human beings can hide their own fallen existence, their trivialization, and their adaptation to the status quo. It is an excuse that everyone can use, from the greengrocer, who conceals his fear of losing his job behind an alleged interest in the unification of the workers of the world, to the highest functionary, whose interest in staying in power can be cloaked in phrases about service to the working class. The primary excusatory function of ideology, therefore, is to provide people, both as victims and pillars of the post-totalitarian system, with the illusion that the system is in harmony with the human order and the order of the universe.
[...]...continue reading and rate this entry.
Last week saw the release of a curious paper from authors toiling away from within the hallowed, marble-encased edifice of the Cambridge, Massachusetts based "New England Complex Systems Institute." The piece "Evidence of Market Manipulation in the Financial Crisis," bought to the attention of finem respice by the always engaging Alea, purports to be the first direct evidence of what the authors term a "bear raid." The piece goes on to insist that market transparency is presently insufficient to guard against market manipulation and closes with a call for more regulation to curtail short selling, via the "uptick rule" in particular. Even the most superficial analysis of the work exposes it as utter nonsense. A deeper look would seem to suggest that this paper, as well as The New England Complex Systems Institute itself, are the essence of corrupt, crony-science masquerading as legitimate study.
The New England Complex Systems Institute describes itself as:
...an independent academic research and educational institution with students, postdoctoral fellows and faculty. In addition to the in-house research team, NECSI has co-faculty, students and affiliates from MIT, Harvard, Brandeis and other universities nationally and internationally.1
A quick look at data from OMB Watch makes it clear that the use of the word "independent" by the New England Complex Systems Institute (hereinafter "CSI:NE") is creative.
To say the least....continue reading and rate this entry.
Typically astute long-time readers of finem respice will by now have noticed the addition of the "anti-green" logo (repurposed from Dale Amon via samizdata.net) to finem respice's long-static sidebar. Of course, the adoption by finem respice of an overt, as opposed to incidental, opposition to the "green movement"1 is a departure from the general philosophical bent exhibited here over the years.2 Certainly, finem respice has clashed with the periphery of the "green movement," or at least its secondary effects, on occasion, but for the most part critiques in these pages have been focused on narrow slices of these issues (e.g. price discovery, period mismatches, short-term political gains at the expense of long-term social losses). Some deeper lunges into the thoracic cavity of "climate science" may have nicked a green artery or two along the way, but only in the way of collateral damage. Unfortunately, the time of Franco-Spain style neutrality has come to an end.3
- 1. The defining properties of which are explored further infra.
- 2. Cf. Private, Equity, Malignant Solar Cells, finem respice (October 23, 2011).
- 3. Identifying the parties in this analogy who represent the Axis and the Allies respectively is left as an exercise for the listless finem respice reader.
Once the Roman Republic began to mint silver coinage,1 but prior to the reign of Julius Caesar, Roman currency was generally struck by the tresviri aere argento auro flando feriundo.2 These "moneyers" are often described as aspiring Senators and, given the import of consistent and reliable minting to The Empire and The Republic before it, the position required and established a measure of credibility and integrity. A moneyer had a modicum of control over the design and legend that appeared on "his" coinage and many used this precious advertising real estate to promote the fortunes of their patrons or, perhaps more commonly, themselves.
The appearance of hammered coins probably dates back to sixth century BC Lydia when the silver-gold alloy "electrum" was annealed and set between a pair of dies (most likely bronze) before the handle of the top die was struck, literally, with a hammer to impress design into the blank on both sides.
More expensive and complex screw presses eventually usurped hammered coins and, perhaps as a direct result of an increased ability to monopolize the minting process, what had started as a widely distributed process that continued into the middle ages increasingly became a highly centralized one. Queen Mary, for instance, finally concentrated all minting by the Royal Mint in the Tower of London (excepting the appearance of special "siege mints" for towns under- wait for it- siege and the like, particularly during the English Civil War).
Roman mints were, however (and if finem respice readers will perhaps permit us to coin a phrase) legion. While smaller denominations may have been minted locally, or to suit regional demand for small transaction coinage- in particular the bronze strikings that held limited value and were hammered either with or (more likely) without authorization from Rome- the larger gold and silver denominations with real intrinsic value (the Aureus, Solidus, Denarius, Tremissis, Antoninianus, etc.) were struck only by the official moneyers.
As the payments required of a large Republic (and later an expansionist Empire) were generally of much larger denomination, the state (and what would eventually become formalized mints) concerned itself mostly with the coinage used to pay the official obligations of its treasuries, foreign bribes, the regular expenses of a swelling geo-political influence and, of course, its many soldiers.
- 1. Thought to be around 269 BC.
- 2. The trio of men authorized, probably by appointment, to strike coins in gold, silver and bronze.