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Weekend reflections

April 8th, 2005

In keeping with my general hopes of a return to normality, this (lately somewhat irregular)) regular feature is back. The idea is that, over the weekend, you should post your thoughts in a more leisurely fashion than in ordinary comments or the Monday Message Board.

Please post your thoughts on any topic, at whatever length seems appropriate to you. Civilised discussion and no coarse language, please.

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  1. michael.burgess
    April 8th, 2005 at 12:43 | #1

    Great to see the Kurds celebrating in Iraq. It is about time they had something to celebrate about – another indicator that there are worse evils in the world than western democratic leaders no matter how flawed – A point many ex social progressives cum anti-American cultural leftists choose to ignore.

    On a related issue, I find it interesting that Tariq Ramadan is being embraced by academia, NGOs, sections of the liberal media and the anti-globalisation movement as the voice of Muslim moderation and modernisation – This is someone who says Islam is the only answer to Europe’s spiritual malaise, is anti-gay and anti-Semitic, refuses to condemn the stoning to death of women and suicide bombing and encouraged/forced his wife to wear the veil. Makes George Pell almost look like a progressive and is further indication of the poverty of cultural leftism as opposed to rational leftism (George Orwell etc).

  2. Dave Ricardo
    April 8th, 2005 at 13:58 | #2

    Or so all these things (and more) have been alleged by people like Daniel Pipes.

    For what that’s worth.

  3. April 8th, 2005 at 14:52 | #3

    For a religious figure to not say that his religion is the answer to spiritual malaise would be surprising.

    Most relgious types, not to mention most people the world over are anti-gay.

    As for the rest of the accusations I’ll take Dave’s advice and wait for references.

  4. michael.burgess
    April 8th, 2005 at 15:16 | #4

    Daniel Pipes has gone over the top in his criticisms or, at least, has failed to adequately substantiate/reference his claims re Tariq Ramadans links to terrorists. However, the claims I made are undoubtedly correct – when asked to distance himself from his famous families views (brothers, Grandfathers) views on such issues as the stoning to death of women he has been extremely evasive. He has also undoubtedly argued that Islam is the only solution to Europe’s spiritual malaise and that Muslims should not marry non-Muslims (unless they convert), etc. So, at best, he is a religious fundamentalist bigot. However, unlike say George Pell who is rightly criticised, he is viewed by many on the left (several French intellectuals aside) as a voice of moderation – criticising the US and Israel, spouting neo-Marxist rhetoric and wearing designer clothes is all that is needed to classify one a moderate it seems.

  5. Dave Ricardo
    April 8th, 2005 at 15:47 | #5

    “He has also undoubtedly argued that Islam is the only solution to Europe’s spiritual malaise and that Muslims should not marry non-Muslims (unless they convert),”

    Catholics say this about Catholicism, Lutherans say it about Lutheranism etc etc etc. Sadly, religious types are not pluralist in their outlook. They are at fault in this, but the fault is hardly confined to Muslims. About the only people who don’t say it are English Anglicans and the Church of England is so washed out these days it barely qualifies as a religion.

    I think, Michael, you are not seeing the big picture. As Muslim fundamentalists go, thus guy seems relatively benign – emphasis on relatively. This is why he has been feted by organisations like Time magazine, not just the liberal media. For my part, anybody who pussyfoots on stoning is a dickhead, including him, if that is what he has done.

  6. Andrew Reynolds
    April 8th, 2005 at 16:36 | #6

    Dave, Michael,
    The point on stoning etc. is that Sharia law is quite explicit on it – it is the correct punishment for those sins. If he outright condemned it he would be regarded as an apostate by many Muslims and therefore to be killed on the same basis as Salman Rushdie is to be killed. To a strong Muslim to disown Sharia would be unthinkable in the same way that a dogmatic Marxist cannot admit that the democratic process has merit.
    I disagree with him (and Sharia) as much as most people in the West and agree that he should not be seen as a moderate as we understand the term.
    I think it is important, however, that we try to understand the framework in which Muslims think rather than condemning them outright, just as I think that reasoned argument may provide some understanding of the real world to a dogmatic Marxist.

  7. John Quiggin
    April 8th, 2005 at 16:43 | #7

    People committed to the literal inerrancy of the Bible run into much the same problem with OT punishments for this and that, amusingly listed here. If pressed, they tend to get a bit evasive.

  8. joe2
    April 8th, 2005 at 18:15 | #8

    Relaxed on weekend ,for sure. A funeral and a wedding, plus footy. A bit of leaning on The Reserve Bank by the P.M., on interest rates ,in past week. Who cares? They are supposed to be independent and glad that he does not bully them.

    That little squeek ,by R.B, about using interest rates for political advantage, in election period, should be treated like all that stuff.
    Crap!

    Democracy was a non-core promise,anyway.

  9. still working it out
    April 8th, 2005 at 22:03 | #9

    “If he outright condemned it he would be regarded as an apostate by many Muslims and therefore to be killed on the same basis as Salman Rushdie is to be killed.”

    That’s taking it a little far. Salman Rushdie had a death sentence put on him largely because he disavowed being a muslim. This is quite a serious thing to do in Islam. Criticizing aspects of sharia law or even sharia law itself is not in the same league. Sharia Law is still subject to interpretation on many matters so criticism of the way it is currently implemented, even in areas where it is very explicit, is inevitable in any healthy muslim society. While Sharia law is usually very explicit it is not usually implemented and enforced exactly as it is written down. More often than not Sharia law is implemented inconsistently to protect the interests of the supposedly extremely religous people who decide the law.

  10. April 9th, 2005 at 00:35 | #10

    One thing to remember is that the Kurds are not good guys. No doubt they are the products of a harsh environment, but nonetheless historically they have often done the same as the Ukrainians for the Nazis or the Koreans for the Japanese – which just shows a sort of Stockholm syndrome, I suppose, but is still real.

    When I was a child in Iraq our Armenian nanny told my mother some stories of her and her family’s sufferings during the Armenian genocide, and how the Kurds were worse than the Turks.

    The “success” around Mosul includes a great deal of taking their own turn as oppressors and persecutors. Which doesn’t make them unique in history but doesn’t excuse them either.

  11. gordon
    April 10th, 2005 at 12:51 | #11

    In his comment on your post “Interest Rates Unchanged” of 6/4/05, James Farrell links to an earlier comment of his on macro policy in response to your post “A Snippet on Macro Policy” of 1/7/2004. In that earlier comment, James Farrell accepts the premise”…if we accept the independent determination of investment…” and goes on from there.

    What if we don’t accept that premise? Try this on for size instead: The Govt. wants house prices to rise and construction of houses and dwellings to expand. However generally expansionist fiscal and monetary policies would be inflationary, so another method must be found. The Govt. hits on the idea of “targeted inflation”, whereby the value of housing assets can be stimulated into a bubble without affecting the rest of the economy. This is achieved by targeted assistance to home-buyers and the maintenance and expansion of tax incentives for investment in dwellings. To prevent the resulting asset price inflation from spilling over, the Govt. adopts a generally deflationary fiscal policy (high taxes on everything except housing-related expenditure together with large Budget surpluses). The result is to channel investment into housing, where lightly-taxed capital gains are available, and to reduce the incentive to invest in production of tradable goods.

    The low interest rate regime brought about partly by the deflationary budget setting is also good for the stock market, so there is a significant secondary benefit for a Govt. anxious to look like a good economic manager.

    Of course, the excessive private investment in housing mortgages makes it look as though savings are low, because there is little money left over for investment in anything other than mortgages. Banks cheerfully borrow abroad and re-lend domestically to finance the housing sector, and do well; however after a while they are embarrassed by the size of the resulting pile of loot. Perhaps this is why all the banks and associated brokers are currently trying so hard to sell margin loans for stock market speculation.

  12. Ian Gould
    April 10th, 2005 at 16:08 | #12

    “when asked to distance himself from his famous families views (brothers, Grandfathers) views on such issues as the stoning to death of women he has been extremely evasive”

    Maybe his religion says something about “honor thy mother and thy fsther”.

    Mel Gibson has been notably evasive when asked about his father’s antisemitism and holocaust denialism.

  13. Paul Norton
    April 11th, 2005 at 11:47 | #13

    “a dogmatic Marxist cannot admit that the democratic process has merit.”

    To the contrary, dogmatic Marxists in the German Social Democratic Party (e.g. Kautsky, Luxemburg) and in the Menshevik faction of the Russial Social Democratic Labour Party (e.g. Plekhanov, Martov, etc.) insisted that the democratic process had merit and opposed the revisionist tendencies embodied in the authoritarian acts of Lenin and Trotsky.

    A more valid criticism would be that dogmatic Marxists have trouble admitting that the market has merit, and that it is practically impossible to have a genuinely democratic socialism which does not include a large role for the market and non-state enterprise.

  14. April 11th, 2005 at 15:26 | #14

    This isn’t my long awaited ethics piece, but the feedback I couldn’t do on some topics raised in the Monday Message Board a fortnight ago.

    To Point 6: Paul Norton suggested that property rights were a historical and social construct, then went on to talk of the notion of absolute individual property. Well, he is only right on the first part if he is defining terms for the sake of discussion – but be careful when people aren’t using the same jargon – but if that’s so he’s getting the “notion” wrong. That’s merely the human version of territoriality, and as such antedates the human race. It comes naturally to people, and is merely modified in its expression by culture and society.

    But the moment you see that you see the fallacy in “It is open to a democratic society to make a value judgement about where the balance should be struck…” That builds in the answer; it presupposes that it is any business of “society”, let alone democracy. It builds in the idea that it is not simply the individual’s business. It also assumes that society is the intrinsic upholder of property rights, rather than a de facto assist to it. In practice this is part of the quid pro quo whereby governments assert the monopoly of force; they wouldn’t have got away with it unless they pretended to do what people inherently wanted done, at least most of the time.
    But that doesn’t mean that property proceeds from the state, just that the state followed the people. See how US homestead acts followed actual practice, and the way formal government followed actual settlement in Australia.

    The conclusion is actually not a logical conclusion so much as a statement of position; it simply does not follow unless one has already discarded the idea of individual primacy.

    To point 9: Andrew Reynolds, Roman protections were usually at the expense of the protected to some extent, e.g. connubium and commercium funnelled trade and patronage via Rome and cut more direct links. The later damage to the Roman Empire was long after the major changes to the property system. Your conclusion is sounder than PN’s, but still tautologous (what is “due compensation”? who decides? and, if no such thing exists, can confiscation occur without consent?).

    To point 10: Paul Norton, the basis of the Roman Empire was at first the output of small farmers, and later tribute from clients and subjects (generally levied from their own polities and not individually). Slave labour was more a way of coping with surplus prisoners, levying unorganised tribes, and transferring wealth from small farmers to latifundistas (despite a drop off in production, they got richer). The age of cheap slaves was brief, e.g. after the Punic Wars slaves were cheap. But slavery was more self sustaining than free peasantry; each slave household effectively worked as a welfare state for unmarried mothers, and they did have high birth rates
    (that doesn’t apply to the exploiting latifundias, of course). Slavery mostly ended via the gradual freeing of slaves as freedmen who had to pay their former owners but fend for themselves (combined with the levelling down of the free population as a whole, and the ending of distinctions between Roman and non-Roman). One author told a correspondent to run his estates with slaves if he could supervise them, but lease further off ones to tenants on fixed rents.

    I’m afraid I can’t find the supporting references off the top of my head. Some keywords to google are “honestiores” and “humiliores”, and I do have a download somewhere about the economic transition at the end of the republic (including tax farming).

    To point 17: Andrew Reynolds, slavery came in as a “least worst” in conditions very different from ours. It survived in a range of conditions very different from each other as well as from its beginnings and our own situation. Briefly (and oversimplifying):-

    - It came in where there was nothing else safe to do with captives except kill them (see what happened after the Caudine Forks, and how when the Royal Navy took slave ships they had to maroon the slavers – which was practically a death sentence).

    - In early days “land” was meaningful and it wasn’t convenient to subsume the concept under “capital”; as such, you couldn’t simply own land and expect it to find tenants from a surplus population, or build a factory and have workers arrive, or anything like that. In a situation very like early colonialism, exploiters had to coerce people directly to get work out of them (I know a lot about how to do that, too). That required some form of forced labour and restriction on runaways, which fairly naturally produced private slavery. This and the previous point means that the government could not free slaves. The slaves would have been driven out completely or
    killed, for safety and to preserve what was left of the land for extensive use, e.g. herding. Serfdom was a more intermediate stage. There is a lot of research around on how serfdom grew back once Hungary and southern Russia were freer from Turkish and Tartar raids – and how some people preferred comfortable slavery to starving freedom. In fact, most slave codes had provisions against freeing slaves against their will. (Compare and contrast the wise transitional methods of freeing slaves in the British West Indies, the need for replacement contract workers, and the brutal way of ending the indenture system – V.S.Naipaul describes how the contractors were
    harmed by being released; see also missionary reports of how freedom and sentence doubling were both harsh for French Guiana convicts.)

    - Slaves were often kept under control not by government but by a modus vivendi with a few former escapers, e.g. Cossacks and Maroons (“Bushniggers” is more self-explanatory). They were allowed to be poachers turned gamekeeper; the state literally could not police the runaway areas anyway – but existing runaways could plug the ecological niche. Contrary to what Brad DeLong often writes, the Cossacks do not work for the Czar. They are in it for themselves and are much harsher than the Czar to serfs wishing to escape in their turn.

    - Slaves often became a specialised form of value adding, cost centres rather than profit centres. This was particularly so in the Moslem world in its great days, but even in Rome there were high value – and well treated – slaves converting raw materials ultimately extracted from the tax paying and exploited peasantry. Many museums have beautiful Roman art pieces made in imperial workshops attached to the palace – an extended but not essentially different Roman household. See also the history of how Turkic tribes exploited Tadjik groups in Central Asia but used slaves for special work (an Italian slave wound up making and maintaining a clock for life). Nobles trained
    their children in trades to be valuable enough to be worth keeping if they were captured (they were considering the alternative).

    - This special use drove much early African slave raiding, capturing women for clans (particularly for their upper classes). This wasn’t simple lust; an expanded power base within the clan was valuable, both symbolically and by producing a larger next generation of support. But the result was originally a bycatch of males – who were massacred. Oddly, the 18th century of apologia for slavery was correct; the slavers were rescuing people from death (since the traders wanted males more). The catch was, by the 18th century the tail – the export trade – was wagging the dog and driving slave raids. The lower level of dynastic slaving was what had applied in earlier
    centuries.

    Oh, there is another thing you can do with captives. You can sacrifice them, the way the Aztecs did.

    To point 24: Andrew Reynolds, responsibilities do not come with rights, unless you are working within a natural or artificial set of circumstances in which certain things are zero sum. If not – as in the situation where there is always more land, for instance – you can’t take it for granted. It’s a special case, and while it’s often quibbling to suggest otherwise within today’s contexts, it’s quite false as a description of where things came from. (This is actually getting into some of the stuff I would like to bring out in the ethics material, as and when – rights and duties are not complementary, any more than absolute zero implies some absolute
    high of temperature.)

    To point 25, AR, are you sure they got a “sorry”? That doesn’t sound like our great leaders.

    Phew. That’s it. Finally enough energy to do something. I lost the daytime on Saturday and a couple of daytimes the week before – I advise readers to try to avoid reactive depression. I’m normally OK when people meet me, but that’s because f I’m not they don’t; you should see me when I’m alone. I average twenty useful hours a week, but luckily I can often pick which ones or I wouldn’t meet enough commitments. But this sort of thing should help get me out some day, or so I’m told.

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