I think we have all seen this. It’s “you have two cows” method of explaining complex systems in a simple, folksy way. The classic ones here are the “Socialist”, “Communist” and “Capitalism, American Style”. Those three are the meat.

And you can tell straight away that this is crap. Because it’s talking about cows. The simple fact that cows are the frame of reference here reveal how out-of-touch, how antiquated this mindset, this way of thinking is. Since when did people have cows? I’ll wager that less then one percent of Americans own cows. I’ll also wager that the vast majority of people have not owned cows in a long time – if they ever did at all.

And so, with that being said, let’s dive in with some basic definitions. Capitalism, at its most basic level, essentially means that private citizens or corporations own capital (capital being essentially the resources of production, like land, equipment, money, factories, cars, etc). Socialism implies that the government owns a significant portion of a nation’s capital, or certain sectors of production, usually utilities, airlines, transportation, etc. It also seems to imply bureaucratic welfare programs via taxes. Communism effectively means that the government owns all capital.

Basically, the cow-nomics chart basically just re-iterates popular conservative misconceptions about the way societies work.

The “Socialist” entry implies that the government takes something of yours and gives it to someone how does not deserve it. The result is that both of you are poor (because aside from some milk, nothing can happen). This argument only makes sense to people who haven’t been paying attention to how the economy actually works; what is actually happening?

Some of these are weird and delusional, but I’ll stick with “Capitalism, American Style”, where you sell a cow and buy a bull and then you get a herd. Hidden here is some old puritan predestination. If I work hard…I will be rewarded; my economic life, which mirrors my personal life is moral and will prosper. It’s implied because the whole “herd” just sorta appears. It’s the moral assumptions that I reject.

Look – our economy is mixed. And our technologically advanced society is almost impossibly complex. Even talking in terms of “capitalism” or “socialism” or “communism” makes NO SENSE AT ALL. The second someone starts talking about one versus they other, they are simply attempting to change the subject or confuse the issue. The basic roots of “capitalism” stems from basic human nature and will remain essentially unchanged (for example, look at the Soviet Union or China; they where unable to change the basic structure of complex human society.

We need to have a sensible conversation about how our economy actually works with out references to trite academic debates that were wearing thin and where becoming outdated by the 1930s.

I should be able to talk about reducing the military budget in this country and taxing the ultra wealthy on their actual net worth without being called a socialist. Especially since this stance that I just put forth is really a fiscally conservative view.

Really the ideas floating around today can be boiled down to neoliberalism, authoritarian capitalism, and steady-state economics. Neoliberalism has been the ruling philosophy in this country since Reagan. Does’t matter which political party which you are from, this has been our effect policy for thirty years.

Neoliberalism can be boiled down to a few basic planks: deregulation (of both industry and and the stock market), tax cuts, cuts to welfare and social security programs; it’s associated with open trade and globalisation.  But it is also a comprehensive social philosophy which panders to the super rich and poor or threatened whites in this country. It’s the idea that

Remember the Greek debt crisis? That’s neoliberalism at work. Here’s how it goes. Money is loaned to a poor country in exchange for certain agreements (usually deregulation, dropping of trade barriers, removal of welfare programs). The idea is that this will allow capitalism to work its magic; the resulting growth in the economy will pay off the loan. But that hasn’t been happening. What really happens is a vicious cycle; the poor country is turned into a colony. Foreign corporations are able to wipe out the domestic businesses. Tourism, raw or rare materials become the only real economic motor in these countries.


Byzantium: The Early Centuries


Around the 3rd century AD, the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great – and if anyone deserves that honorific, it is he – founded Constantinople, perhaps the most beautiful city on Earth. Constantine fused in himself the idea that there was one God, one Religion, and one Emperor on Earth. Byzantium was born. It lasted until 1453, abandoned and betrayed by western/Catholic Europe and smashed by the arid tempest of the Turks.

The Byzantines are be far my favourite historical protagonists (honourable mention: the Venetian Republic and feudal Japan). Both an empire and a civilisation, the Byzantines are both the Roman Empire that never fell, the preservers of Greco-Roman civilisation, art, and knowledge, the Great Bulwark against Islam, and masters of art and architecture. The Hagia Sophia easily the most magnificent piece of architecture ever; it redeems any misdeeds the Byzantine Emperors may have gotten up to.

The Byzantines have a bad rap due to 19th century English historians: specifically Edward Gibbon and his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Gibbon was brilliant; but he lingers with voyeristic pleasure over the madness and incompetence of the emperors. For Gibbon -making an invisible argument about morality and the cultural reasons for the fall of the Romans – the Byzantines where a cesspool of regicide, incest, etc, name they got it.

The Byzantines have been ignored ever since. Even today, they are almost totally unknown. The exploits of Belisarius – the greatest general of his age – the architecture, the theological controversy, the opportunities gained and lost; the extreme heroism of some of the Emperors, like Justinian and Heraclius is unknown. The Byzantines saved Western Civilisation, both in the physical and intellectual senses. Without them, there is a good chance that we would all be Muslim today.

John Julius Norwich is one of my favourite historians. His work on the Mediterranean world, Venice in particular is brilliant. He is one of the best narrative historians out there. His epic Byzantine Trilogy is as far as I know the best and most complete account of the Empire. There are several academic works out there, as well as the work of Robert Byron, but his trilogy stands out. This is both a testament to the skill of his work, but also a grudging acknowledgement that there is not a whole lot out there about the Byzantines.

If it where up to me, Hollywood would make a film about the Fall of Constantinople.

I highly recommend this first instalment in the trilogy – I’ve been waiting years to start – as well as all of John Julius Norwich’s works.



Love in the Time of Cholera


I read One Hundred Years of Solitude a few years ago and found it haunting. It spoke truth.

Love in the Time of Cholera is a deeply insightful, sweetly-sad book about life and love. Those of you who follow my rambling book review postings might know that I have little appetite for such books. I get frustrated: why should I care about these people? I rarely identify with characters in these books, who it seems, almost by the demands of the plot are capable of the most eye-rolling hijinks.

This wasn’t my favourite book, but I can fully appreciate the technical and artistic skill of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. This author is like the great Russian novelists – he can fully and seemingly effortlessly take you too a different time and place.

I haven’t lived in 19th century Moscow, nor early 20th century Colombia, but somehow these authors incorporate me effortlessly. It’s a special magic, and Marquez has it in spades.

This is a winning book for a lot of people. Not just for me. Gabriel Garcia Marquez is good enough to warrant another read however. I’m thinking of The General in his Labyrinth.