WND column

The Return of the Great Depression

Eighty years ago this Thursday, the Great Depression began. While the great stock market crash of 1929 actually began on Oct. 24, it was the fourth day of the crash, Oct. 29, 1929, now known as Black Tuesday, that confirmed the severity of the four-day decline and alerted the world to the fact that not all was well with the U.S. economy. Those who appreciate historical rhythm will probably be aware that the most intense part of the subsequent depression was the four years from 1930 through 1933 that Milton Friedman described as the Great Contraction. Although 1929 marked the beginning of the Great Depression, it is important to understand that very few people, let alone politicians or economists, recognized at the time that what they were experiencing was the Great Depression.

WND column

End the Fed
by Ron Paul
Rating: 10 of 10

“The Federal Reserve System must be challenged. Ultimately, it needs to be eliminated. The government cannot and should not be trusted with a monopoly on money. No single institution in society should have power this immense. In fact, I believe that freedom itself is at stake in this struggle.”
– Ron Paul, “End the Fed,” p. 11

In 17 years of writing game and book reviews, I can count on two hands the number of times I have ever given out the highest rating. True excellence is to be distinguished from the merely very good, and it is far rarer than the heavy use of superlatives in our everyday language would tend to indicate. End the Fed is more than a timely political polemic, it is also the story of the long and patient campaign by a small group of freedom-loving patriots to restore economic liberty to the American people.

WND column

A Prize-winning Presidency

Unlike many right-wing commentators, I had very high hopes for the Obama administration. Whereas most conservatives were wringing their hands about how Obama was likely to destroy the economy, I was confident that Ben Bernanke already had the task well in hand. Sure enough, Obama was content to continue where George W. Bush had left off, expanding the bank bailouts and quadrupling down on the $168 billion Bush stimulus package with his own $787 billion gambit.

UPDATE: I have to admit, Tom Bemis at Marketwatch did it better:

Obama fails to win Nobel prize in economics

In a decision as shocking as Friday’s surprise peace prize win, President Obama failed to win the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences Monday.

You know that’s the inevitable joke every time any prize is awarded anywhere over the next six months.

WND column

Ireland Surrenders Again

So, it was all for nothing. All the pain, bloodshed and sacrifice has gone for naught. The Rebellion of 1878, the Young Irelanders, the 1919 War of Independence, Sunday, bloody Sunday, the bombings in Belfast, the assassination of Lord Mountbatten, last year’s “No” vote and every other aspect of the long and bitter struggle for Irish independence was to no purpose. On Oct. 3, 2009, the voters of the Republic of Ireland threw away their hard-won sovereignty out of fear, naiveté and greed for nothing more than the deceitful promises of the Eurocrats.

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard has more on the debacle.

WND column

Evolution, Economics, and Evil

The Mind of the Market: Compassionate Apes, Competitive Humans, and Other Tales from Evolutionary Economics
Michael Shermer
Rating: 7 of 10

It is no secret that I hold a rather low opinion of various books produced by a few well-known atheists. Without exception, they are riddled with factual ignorance, easily demonstrable illogic and fraudulent appeals to science. While Michael Shermer is every bit the atheist that Sam Harris or Richard Dawkins are, his scientific expertise happens to be applicable to his subject matter and his approach is entirely different. And unlike the New Atheists, Shermer makes intelligent use of both science and logic in utilizing various aspects of evolutionary theory to consider homo economicus.

By the way, something that I didn’t manage to work into the column was Shermer’s articulation of “Darwin’s Dictum”, which he developed from a letter Darwin wrote to Henry Fawcett.

“About thirty years ago there was much talk that geologists ought only to observe and not theorize, and I well remember someone saying that at this rate a man might as well go into a gravel-pit and count the pebbles and describe the colours. How odd it is that anyone should not see that all observation must be for or against some view if it is to be of any service!

Shermer writes: “This quote was the centerpiece of the first of my monthly columns for Scientific American, in which I elevated it to a principle I call “Darwin’s Dictum,” as identified in the final clause: all observation must be for or against some view if it is to be of any service. Darwin’s Dictum encodes the philosophy of science of this book: if observations are to be of any use they must be tested against some view—a thesis, model, hypothesis, theory, or paradigm. Since the facts never just speak for themselves, they must be interpreted through the colored lenses of ideas—percepts need concepts. Science is an exquisite blend of data and theory—percepts and concepts—that together form the bedrock for the foundation of science, the greatest tool ever devised for understanding how the world works. We can no more separate our theories and concepts from our data and percepts than we can find a truly objective Archimedean point—a god’s eye view—of ourselves and our world.

I found this to be an intriguing perspective, especially in light of the vociferous claims of science’s pure objectivity made so often by those who fetishize it. It tends to raise two questions, of course. In service to what, or to whom? And by what standard are competing interpretations of the same facts to be judged?

WND column

Bernanke’s ‘Essays’

“It should also be emphasized, though, that not just the existence of financial difficulties during the 1920s but also the policy response to those difficulties was important. Austria is probably the most extreme case of nagging banking problems being repeatedly “papered over.” That country had banking problems throughout the 1920s, which were handled principally by merging failing banks into still-solvent banks. An enforced merger of the Austrian Bodencreditanstalt with two failing banks in 1927 weakened that institution, which was part of the reason that the Bodencreditanstalt in turn had to be forcibly merged with the Creditanstalt in 1929. The insolvency of the Creditanstalt, finally revealed when a director refused to sign an “optimistic” financial statement in May 1931, sparked the most intense phase of the European crisis.”

– Ben S. Bernanke, “Essays on the Great Depression,” p. 96.

One of the benefits of having an intellectual at the helm of the Federal Reserve during this ongoing economic crisis is that intellectuals tend to leave a paper trail. Bernanke, famous for being a student of the Great Depression, is without question very well-informed on the relevant historical issues. His book reveals an intelligent and scholarly mind that does not shirk from the details but, rather, leaps without hesitation into statistical analysis of the most technical economic minutiae. The book simply wallows in charts, equations and log changes; the net result is impressive, especially when compared with his predecessor’s lightweight, revisionist chronicle, “The Age of Turbulence.”