Book Review: Palace, Political Party and Power


August 30, 2016

Book Review: Palace, Political Party and Power

Kobkua Suwannathat-Pian,: A Story of the Socio-Political Development of Malay Kingship.

Singapore: NUS Press, 2011. Pp. xxiv, 472; map, tables, figures, photographs, list of abbreviations and acronyms, glossary, notes, bibliography, index.

Reviewed by Greg Lopez.

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On 6 February 2009, approximately 3,000 Malays protested in the royal town of Kuala Kangsar, demanding that the Perak ruler, Sultan Azlan Shah, dismiss the state’s legislative assembly to pave the way for new state elections. Earlier, Malaysia’s then Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak had extra-constitutionally toppled the popularly elected Pakatan Rakyat state government with the complicity of Perak’s royals. Never in Malaysian history had there been such a popular uprising against Malay royals as the ensuing protests. This video provides a hint of the likelihood that in a new Malaysia the most significant threat to the Malay rulers’ fetish for power will come not from the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) but from ordinary Malays.

Kobkua Suwannathat-Pian serves as professor of history and senior fellow in the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities of the Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris. She ranks among the most renowned and respected historians of modern Thailand. The latest of her many books, Palace, Political Party and Power: A story of the Socio-Political Development of Malay Kingship, sees her turn her attention to the history of modern Malaysia to provide a cogent analysis of the relationship between UMNO and the Malay rulers in their common quest for power. The book’s timing is opportune, as it comes at a moment at which each of these institutions, UMNO and Malay kingship, confronts a decline in its legitimacy within a seriously divided Malay community. Palace, Political Party and Power represents a valuable addition to the literature not only on the relationship between the Malay rulers and UMNO, but also on that between the Malay rulers and UMNO on the one hand and their “subjects” – the Malays of Peninsular Malaysia – on the other. Even more significantly, it treats an important and neglected dimension of Malaysian politics – the impact of the Malay rulers on the country’s affairs.

Palace, Political Party and Power traces the socio-political development of the institution of Malay rulership, from the beginning of colonial times, when the Malay rulers lost power but not prestige; through the Japanese Occupation, when they lost both; to the restoration of the rulers’ prestige – thanks to the new Malay elites – at independence; and in the ebbs and flows since. In narrating this story, the book achieves three principal ends. First, it reaffirms conventional analysis holding that the British residential system in colonial Malaya had great significance in modernising the institution of Malay rulership towards the constitutional monarchy of today’s Malaysia. Second, it argues persuasively that it was the Japanese Occupation of Malaya that provided the platform for new Malay elites – whose members would become the leading lights of UMNO – to take the leadership of the Malay masses away from the Malay rulers but in the process also to restore the prestige of those rulers. Third, and most important, almost seventy percent of Palace, Political Party and Power focuses on the complex relationship – one of competition for and cooperation in power – between the country’s two leading Malay institutions, UMNO and the rulers.

Pian’s central argument is that the Japanese Occupation of Malaya and Japanese policies towards the Malay rulers, the new Malay elites, and the Malay community had, more than any other factor, the effect of stripping the Malay royal institution of its “aura”, “mystique”, “grandeur” and “authority.” In consequence, Malay rulership no longer commanded the fear or undisputed reverence of members of the post-1945 Malay elite. Malaya’s Japanese occupiers, through their treatment of the Malay rulers, revealed those rulers’ impotence, their inability to defend themselves, and also their lack of the capacity to defend the interests of their subjects – the rakyat. This reality made clear to the burgeoning new Malay elite, which the Japanese also developed, that the existence of Malay royal institutions depended very much on the good will of those in power. It provided that new elite with a valuable lesson for dealing with difficult members of the royalty during the post-1945 period.

Furthermore, the book argues, Japan’s policy of inculcating Malay society with a certain variant of Japanese values through education had the unintended effect of strengthening the Malays as one community, sharing one language and one religion. Many Malay youths were sent to schools – ordinary schools, teacher training schools, and leadership schools (kurenjo). In the leadership schools, Malay students were taught by means of an exhausting daily routine to appreciate and to live by Nippon seishin, or the Japanese spirit. This exposure to Japanese values had the profound effect of changing some Malays’ outlook on life, and above all of exorcising the narrow socio-political parochialism that had previously divided the Malays into subjects of different rulers owing allegiance to different sultanates. The Japanese Occupation of Malaya also toughened members of the new Malay elite, as both the British and the Malay rulers would learn so dramatically after Imperial Japan’s defeat.

 Pian develops her arguments over nine chapters, in essence covering two periods: that before the establishment of UMNO in 1946 and that after the party’s establishment. The first chapter provides a brief introduction to the concept of monarchy and locates the Malay rulers within the history and among the fortunes of monarchs in post-colonial developing nations. While many monarchs lost their titles, the monarchs of the newly minted Federated States of Malaya gained a new title in 1957. With the addition of the elected Supreme Head of State or Yang DiPertuan Agung to the nine existing rulers of Malay states, Malaya became the country with the greatest number of constitutional rulers in the world, ten in all. The second and the third chapters of the book discuss the abject state of the Malay rulers as of the middle of the last century. They narrate the story of the social-political decline that the rulers suffered first under British colonial rule and then under the Japanese Occupation. Chapters Four through Eight discuss the tug of war between the Malay rulers and UMNO to define the de facto and de jure roles of constitutional monarchs in independent Malaya/Malaysia, and Chapter Nine concludes the book.

In its research, Palace, Political Party and Power is all that one would expect from Pian. She has scoured archives and other holdings at the Public Record Office and the library of School of Oriental and African Studies in London, the Rhodes House library at Oxford, and the National Library of Singapore and the library of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS), as well as archival holdings in Malaysia itself. She demonstrates real courage in writing about Malay monarchy and UMNO in a true academic fashion; she proves herself objective in the context of a public university in Malaysia. Unlike the general brood of academicians that fill Malaysia’s public university system, Kobkua Suwannathat-Pian is no UMNO or royalist sycophant.

Palace, Political Party and Power suggests that, if the contest between UMNO and the Malay rulers were a boxing match, then UMNO would be leading after four rounds but facing uncertainty in the remaining rounds and the serious possibility of losing the bout. For UMNO’s legitimacy as the protector of the Malays is declining faster than that of the Malay rulers. We may divide the contest between UMNO and the Malay rulers up to now into four clear chronological rounds. Round One, circa 1946, centred on the issue of Malayan Union. It was a draw, as the Malay rulers, UMNO and Malay subjects rallied together in the common cause of protecting the rights of the rulers. Round Two, roughly 1948 – 1951, was focused on the powers of the new Malay elite, represented by UMNO. Throttling the ascendancy of UMNO, the monarchs clearly won that round. Round Three was the 1951 – 1955 Merdeka negotiations, and it went to UMNO. And Round Four brought UMNO victory in 1983/84 and 1993/94. It left UMNO the supreme power in the land. This bout’s fifth round is currently being fought. There is no clear winner yet, but the Malay rulers have come back very strong.

In discussing the factors that explain the success of the constitutional relationship between the Malay rulers and the executive leadership of the country, Palace, Political Party and Power suggests three: the strong political power of the chief executive, the personal prestige of the chief executive vis-├а-vis the rulers, and personal attributes of the men who have occupied these positions. Adding to these three factors was of course the legitimacy of the Malay rulers and UMNO’s leaders, respectively, in the eyes of the rakyat.

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His Majesty The Yang Di-Pertuan Agong of Malaysia

At a theoretical level, this book frames the analyses of the relationship between the Malay rulers and UMNO as a contest between two ideas of constitutional monarchy. These two ideas are best captured in quotations from Tunku Abdul Rahman and Sultan Azlan Shah that appear in Palace, Political Party and Power:

The Constitution implies without room for contradiction that though the Sultans are sovereign heads of states, they have no power to rule. The power lies in the hands of the people who through their representatives run the government of the nation and the states…

Tunku Abdul Rahman, page 408

What the Agung can do and what he cannot do is clearly defined by the Constitution. One fact is certain, the royal prerogative is exercised by the Prime Minister and the Cabinet, as representing the electorate, hence the people have a lot to say…It can be assumed that while the Rulers enjoy their rights and privileges, they must live within these rights…The Menteri Besar and the State Executive Councillors are supposed to be the ‘watchdogs’…Their duties are to see the Rulers do not commit excess…

Tunku Abdul Rahman, page 330

A King is a King, whether he is an absolute or constitutional monarch. The only difference between the two is that whereas one has unlimited powers, the other’s powers are defined by the Constitution. But it is a mistake to think that the role of the King, likethat of a President, is confined to what is laid down by the Constitution. His role far exceeds those constitutional provisions.

Sultan Azlan Shah, page 330

Another example of the way in which Kobkua Suwannathat-Pian frames her analysis is the comparison of Westminster-style constitutional monarchy, which emphasis the non-political nature of the monarchy, with the “Southeast Asian” model of constitutional monarchy, best represented by the current Thai king. The Southeast Asian model follows in form the Westminster-type model, whereby the monarch delegates all powers to the people’s representatives. However, in practise, the modern Southeast Asian monarch reserves the ultimate extra-constitutional power to interpret, intervene, reject or direct a course of action in affairs of state.

This line of analysis is, however, very narrow in its usefulness. It misses the central feature of Malaysia’s system of government. Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy only in name. The wording of the country’s constitution has been amended more than 650 times; 42 amendment bills have been passed. In fact, Malaysia is a dysfunctional democracy, in which the ruling UMNO enjoys disproportionate power relative to all other institutions. In the political science literature, Malaysia is conceptualised not as a democracy but as a semi-democracy, neither democratic nor authoritarian, a syncretistic, repressive-responsive and electoral one-party state. In this context, the relationship between UMNO and the Malay rulers takes on a different meaning. It is not a contest over interpretation of the constitution so much as one over UMNO’s ability to hold hegemonic power. Furthermore, a Westminster model works best in a non-feudal society, whereas Malaysian society remains feudal. These realities notwithstanding, it would nevertheless be interesting to know if Malay rulers like Sultan Azlan Shah indeed see themselves operating according to Kobkua Suwannathat-Pian’s Southeast Asian model of kingship.

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To frame the relationship between UMNO and the rulers in terms of a quest for power turns the focus to legitimacy: first, the legitimacy of the actions of UMNO and the Malay rulers in the eyes of the rakyat and, second, UMNO’s legitimation of its actions through the use and abuse of the Malay rulers as the party made itself Malaysia’s most powerful institution. In this context, Palace, Political Party and Power overlooks an important event in Malaysian history, one that solidified UMNO’s position as the pinnacle organisation in Malaysian society. This event was the 1988 sacking of Malaysia’s Lord President, Tun Salleh Abbas; the subsequent emasculation of the country’s judiciary; and the complicity in these events of the then Agung, Sultan Mahmud Iskandar Shah of Johor. A more recent example of the power of UMNO, one not treated in detail in the book but described in the opening paragraph of this review, was its toppling of a popularly elected state government with the support of the Malay ruler. The book also neglects numerous cases of UMNO’s use of the Malay rulers to curtail the civil liberties of Malaysians.

An analytical framework centered on UMNO’s quest for ultimate power makes possible also a coherent explanation for the increasingly common appeal of various political organisations and civil society movements to the Malay rulers – namely the Yang Di-Pertuan Agung – in such causes as free and fair elections, protection of the rights of Malaysian Indians or of Malay language rights, and others. These appeals have come despite the Malaysian monarchy’s limited de jure and de facto powers and its blemished track record. The reason for them is that, when virtually all other institutions in Malaysia are either weak or UMNO proxies or both, only the Malay rulers, with their interest in protecting and furthering their own interests, offer a glimmer of hope against the excess of Malaysia’s true monarchs – the UMNOputras.

Palace, Political Party and Power notes that, by the end of 2008, the Malay rulers’ stature was definitely on the rise. That would seem to remain the case as long as UMNO’s political leadership continued to be ineffective. The events of 6 February 2009 showed, however, just how vulnerable the Malay rulers are. Sultan Azlan Shah and the Perak regent Raja Nazrin (now Sultan) heralded in this book as examples of a new breed of monarchs who are competent and have the interest of the rakyat at heart, are now treated as outcasts by a significant number of people in their own state of Perak and by Malaysians in general. The Malay rulers’ long-term challenge is not besting UMNO but rather winning the hearts of Malays, Malays who are increasingly shedding their feudalistic mindset.

Greg Lopez is New Mandala’s Malaysia editor, and a PhD scholar at the Crawford School of Economics and Government of the Australian National University.

References

Martin Jalleh, 2011. “Of Raja Nazrin, Real Stories & Regal Rhetoric,” Malaysia Today, 27 July (http://malaysia-today.net/mtcolumns/guest-columnists/42378-of-raja-nazrin-real-stories-a-regal-rhetoric , accessed 27 July 2011).

Zainon Ahmand and Liew-Ann Phang, “The all powerful executive”, The Sun, 8 April (http://www.perdana.org.my/emagazine/2011/04/the-sun-the-all-powerful-executive/, accessed 1 August 2011).

In Books on Donald Trump, Consistent Portraits of a High-Decibel Narcissist


August 27, 2017

by Michiko Kakutani

http://www.nytimes.com

Image result for  dystopian Donald Trump

Over the last year, we’ve been plunged into the alternate reality of Trumpland, as though we were caught in the maze of his old board game, “Trump: The Game,” with no exit in sight. It’s a Darwinian, dog-eat-dog, zero-sum world where greed is good, insults are the lingua franca, and winning is everything (or, in tangled Trumpian syntax, “It’s not whether you win or lose, but whether you win!”).

To read a stack of new and reissued books about Mr. Trump, as well as a bunch of his own works, is to be plunged into a kind of Bizarro World version of Dante’s “Inferno,” where arrogance, acquisitiveness and the sowing of discord are not sins, but attributes of leadership; a place where lies, contradictions and outrageous remarks spring up in such thickets that the sort of moral exhaustion associated with bad soap operas quickly threatens to ensue.

That the subject of these books is not a fictional character but the Republican nominee for president can only remind the reader of Philip Roth’s observation, made more than 50 years ago, that American reality is so stupefying, “so weird and astonishing,” that it poses an embarrassment to the novelist’s “meager imagination.”

Books about Mr. Trump tend to fall into two categories. There are funny ones that focus on Trump the Celebrity of the 1980s and ’90s — a cartoony avatar of greed and wretched excess and what Garry Trudeau (“Yuge! 30 Years of Doonesbury on Trump”) calls “big, honking hubris.” And there are serious biographies that try to shed light on Mr. Trump’s life and complex, highly opaque business dealings as a real estate magnate, which are vital to understanding the judgment, decision-making abilities and financial entanglements he would bring to the Oval Office.

Because of Mr. Trump’s lack of transparency surrounding his business interests (he has even declined to disclose his tax returns) and because of his loose handling of facts and love of hyperbole, serious books are obligated to spend a lot of time sifting through business and court documents. (USA Today recently reported that there are “about 3,500 legal actions involving Trump, including 1,900 where he or his companies were a plaintiff and about 1,300 in which he was the defendant.”) And they must also fact-check his assertions (PolitiFact rates 35 percent of his statements False, and 18 percent “Pants on Fire” Lies).

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Perhaps because they were written rapidly as Mr. Trump’s presidential candidacy gained traction, the latest of these books rarely step back to analyze in detail the larger implications and repercussions of the Trump phenomenon. Nor do they really map the landscape in which he has risen to popularity and is himself reshaping through his carelessness with facts, polarizing remarks and disregard for political rules.

For that matter, these books shed little new light on controversial stands taken by Mr. Trump which, many legal scholars and historians note, threaten constitutional guarantees and American democratic traditions. Those include his call for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” and the “extreme vetting” of immigrants; his talk of revising libel laws to make it easier to sue news organizations over critical coverage; an ethnic-tinged attack on a federal judge that raises questions about his commitment to an independent judiciary; and his incendiary use of nativist and bigoted language that is fueling racial tensions and helping to mainstream far-right views on race.

Some of these books touch fleetingly on Mr. Trump’s use of inflammatory language and emotional appeal to feelings of fear and anger, but they do not delve deeply into the consequences of his nativist rhetoric or his contempt for the rules of civil discourse. They do, however, provide some sense of history, reminding us that while Mr. Trump’s craving for attention and use of controversy as an instrument of publicity have remained the same over the years, the surreal switch of venues — from the New York tabloid universe and the world of reality TV to the real-life arena of national and global politics — has turned formerly “small-potatoes stakes,” as one writer put it, into something profoundly more troubling. From WrestleMania-like insults aimed at fellow celebrities, Mr. Trump now denigrates whole racial and religious groups and questions the legitimacy of the electoral system.

A “semi-harmless buffoon” in Manhattan in the waning decades of the 20th century — as the editor of The New Yorker, David Remnick, terms the businessman in a foreword to Mark Singer’s book “Trump and Me” — has metamorphosed into a political candidate whom 50 senior Republican national security officials recently said “would be the most reckless president in American history,” putting “at risk our country’s national security and well being.”

Two new books provide useful, vigorously reported overviews of Mr. Trump’s life and career. “Trump Revealed,” by Michael Kranish and Marc Fisher of The Washington Post, draws heavily on work by reporters of The Post and more than 20 hours of interviews with the candidate. Much of its material will be familiar to readers — thanks to newspaper articles and Michael D’Antonio’s 2015 biography (“Never Enough: Donald Trump and the Pursuit of Success”) — but “Trump Revealed” deftly charts his single-minded building of his gaudy brand and his often masterful manipulation of the media.

It provides a succinct account of Mr. Trump’s childhood, when he says he punched a teacher, giving him a black eye. It also recounts his apprenticeship to a demanding father, who told him he needed to become a “killer” in anything he did, and how he learned the art of the counterattack from Roy Cohn, Joseph McCarthy’s former right-hand man, whom Mr. Trump hired to countersue the federal government after the Justice Department brought a case against the Trump family firm in 1973 for violating the Fair Housing Act.

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Donald is not Ronald Reagan

“The Making of Donald Trump” by David Cay Johnston — a former reporter for The New York Times who has written extensively about Mr. Trump — zeros in on Mr. Trump’s business practices, arguing that while he presents himself as “a modern Midas,” much “of what he touches” has often turned “to dross.” Mr. Johnston, who has followed the real estate impresario for nearly three decades, offers a searing indictment of his business practices and creative accounting. He examines Mr. Trump’s taste for debt, what associates have described as his startling capacity for recklessness, multiple corporate bankruptcies, dealings with reputed mobsters and accusations of fraud.

The portrait of Mr. Trump that emerges from these books, old or new, serious or satirical, is remarkably consistent: a high-decibel narcissist, almost comically self-obsessed; a “hyperbole addict who prevaricates for fun and profit,” as Mr. Singer wrote in The New Yorker in 1997.

Mr. Singer also describes Mr. Trump as an “insatiable publicity hound who courts the press on a daily basis and, when he doesn’t like what he reads, attacks the messengers as ‘human garbage,’” “a fellow both slippery and naïve, artfully calculating and recklessly heedless of consequences.”

At the same time, Mr. Singer and other writers discern an emptiness underneath the gold-plated armor. In “Trump and Me,” Mr. Singer describes his subject as a man “who had aspired to and achieved the ultimate luxury, an existence unmolested by the rumbling of a soul.” Mr. Kranish and Mr. Fisher likewise suggest that Mr. Trump “had walled off” any pain he experienced growing up and “hid it behind a never-ending show about himself.” When they ask him about friends, they write, he gives them — off the record — the names of three men “he had had business dealings with two or more decades before, men he had only rarely seen in recent years.”

Mr. Trump likes to boast about going it alone — an impulse that helps explain the rapid turnover among advisers in his campaign, and that has raised serious concerns among national security experts and foreign policy observers, who note that his extreme self-reliance and certainty (“I’m speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain”) come coupled with a startling ignorance about global affairs and an impatience with policy and details.

Passages in his books help illuminate Mr. Trump’s admiration for the strongman style of autocratic leaders like Russia’s Vladimir V. Putin, and his own astonishing “I alone can fix it” moment during his Republican convention speech. In his 2004 book, “Think Like a Billionaire,” Mr. Trump wrote: “You must plan and execute your plan alone.”

He also advised: “Have a short attention span,” adding “quite often, I’ll be talking to someone and I’ll know what they’re going to say before they say it. After the first three words are out of their mouth, I can tell what the next 40 are going to be, so I try to pick up the pace and move it along. You can get more done faster that way.”

In many respects, Mr. Trump’s own quotes and writings provide the most vivid and alarming picture of his values, modus operandi and relentlessly dark outlook focused on revenge. “Be paranoid,” he advises in one book. And in another: “When somebody screws you, screw them back in spades.”

The grim, dystopian view of America, articulated in Mr. Trump’s Republican convention speech, is previewed in his 2015 book, “Crippled America” (republished with the cheerier title of “Great Again: How to Fix Our Crippled America”), in which he contends that “everyone is eating” America’s lunch. And a similarly nihilistic vision surfaces in other remarks he’s made over the years: “I always get even”; “For the most part, you can’t respect people because most people aren’t worthy of respect”; and: “The world is a horrible place. Lions kill for food, but people kill for sport.”

Once upon a time, such remarks made Mr. Trump perfect fodder for comedians. Though some writers noted that he was already a caricature of a caricature — difficult to parody or satirize — Mr. Trudeau recalled that he provided cartoonists with “an embarrassment of follies.” And the businessman, who seems to live by the conviction that any publicity is good publicity, apparently embraced this celebrity, writing: “My cartoon is real. I am the creator of my own comic book.”

In a 1990 cartoon, Doonesbury characters argued over what they disliked more about Mr. Trump: “the boasting, the piggish consumption” or “the hideous décor of his casinos.” Sadly, the stakes today are infinitely so much huger.

A version of this article appears in print on August 26, 2016, on page C19 of the New York edition with the headline: A Tower of Trump Books, at High Volume 

Keynes: The Return of the Master by Robert Skidelsky


August 22, 2016

Keynes: The Return of the Master by Robert Skidelsky

by Economics Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman

Paul Krugman :The Finest of his Generation

The great economist’s theories have never been more relevant – and his biographer remains their most compelling advocate, says Paul Krugman

At research seminars, people don’t take Keynesian theorising seriously anymore; the audience starts to whisper and giggle to one another.” So declared Robert Lucas of the University of Chicago, writing in 1980. At the time, Lucas was arguably the world’s most influential macro-economist; the influence of John Maynard Keynes, the British economist whose theory of recessions dominated economic policy for a generation after the Second World War, seemed to be virtually at an end.

But Keynes, it turns out, is having the last giggle. Lucas’s “rational expectations” theory of booms and slumps has shown itself to be completely useless in the current world crisis. Not only does it offer no guide for action, but it more or less asserts that market economies cannot possibly experience the kind of problems they are, in fact, experiencing. Keynesian economics, on the other hand, which was created precisely to make sense of times like these, looks better than ever.

The Future of Europe


August 21, 2016

SLIPPERY SLOPE
Europe’s Troubled Future
By Giles Merritt
270 pp. Oxford University Press. $29.95.

WELCOME TO THE POISONED CHALICE
The Destruction of Greece and the Future of Europe
By James K. Galbraith
213 pp. Yale University Press. $26.

Americans tend to struggle to grasp the ways of the European Union, which admittedly are complex and often arcane. It’s unhelpful that much of the writing on the continent’s seminal postwar project lapses into the same euro-jargon that the union’s technocrats and think tanks employ. Many Europeans can’t make sense of it either, which is one explanation for the triumphant Brexit vote and the historically low trust in the E.U. that Europeans everywhere express today. The community is indisputably mired in its most acute crisis since its founding in the 1950s.

Yet contemporary Europe is incomprehensible without it, so thoroughly does the E.U.’s existence suffuse the everyday lives of its 508 million citizens, the governance of the 28 member states and a $15 trillion economy. This is why the short­ish, lucid books of the Brussels-based journal editor Giles Merritt and the American economist James K. Galbraith deserve particular attention. In accessible prose flush with strong argument, they diagnose the E.U.’s problems — and offer prescriptions on how to deal with them. Though the community is currently preoccupied with Britain’s vote to leave, the influx of migrants, an economy still reeling from the financial crisis, the ascent of far-right parties and a declining global market share, both authors believe deeply in the E.U.

In order to get at the community’s core deficiencies, Merritt first punctures some of the myths that unfairly damage its credibility. A favorite of euro-skeptics is that the E.U. is a gigantic, autonomous “superstate” that runs Europe from Brussels. In fact, the E.U.’s largest body and its executive arm, the European Commission, has a staff of just 23,000, smaller than many national government ministries.

Moreover, most E.U. legislation is not in the form of written law, but rather “directives” to the states, whose legislatures then turn them into law. The heavy lifting is done by the member states. As for autonomy, it is the states that drive the E.U., whether through their national ministers in the Council of Ministers, one of the E.U.’s legislative bodies, or the commission, where state appointees deal with everything from agriculture to consumer protection. The governments call the shots, and it is therefore at their feet that Merritt lays most of the blame for the E.U.’s malaise.

In the same vein, the E.U. has come under fire for its policies guaranteeing workers’ freedom of movement within the union. In the Brexit campaign, anti-E.U. voices charged that its provisions enabled Central Europeans to swamp Britain. In fact, demographic analyses show that northern Europe needs many kinds of workers now and will increasingly require more in decades to come. Although European politicians know this too, many can’t sell this argument to their electorates, just one example of the dichotomy that pits the interests of elected national officials against those of the greater good, embodied in the E.U.

Merritt, despite his substantial respect for the E.U., argues that bold, sweeping reforms are imperative to meet the challenges of the 21st century. Global warming, terrorism, globalized markets, mass migration, militarized geopolitics and the digital revolution all require supranational attention. On their own, he argues, the individual nation states of Europe, Britain included, are doomed to irrelevance.

Yet there’s much more consensus on the union’s shortcomings than on how to address them. The so-called democratic deficit, for instance, refers to the lack of transparency and accountability in the E.U.’s decision-making process. The council, the “true legislative body,” meets behind closed doors. The European Parliament’s elected M.P.s exercise some power, yet no one is held responsible for failure. And then there are the unelected civil servants. No democratic state worth its salt would permit such basic transgressions of democratic procedure. But the E.U., Merritt charges, gets away with it.

Furthermore, the E.U.’s rigidity undermines its ability to promote innovation. Europe lags woefully behind the United States and China in turning digital technology into commercial success. Meager investment in R&D has hurt Europe’s productivity and thus global competitiveness, causing Europe’s share of the international market to stagnate while its rivals post gains. In more ways than one, Merritt argues convincingly, the E.U. is stuck in the 20th century.

Until the Brexit vote, the single greatest blow to the E.U. had been the post-2008 tribulations of the euro, called the euro crisis, which manifested itself as a devastating debt problem that upended the economies of southern Europe and Ireland. The threat of insolvency forced the wealthier northern Europeans, above all Germany, to bail out the troubled nations at high cost, both financially and in terms of good will.

James K. Galbraith, the son of the great Keynesian economist John Kenneth Galbraith, had, as an adviser to the left-wing Syriza government in Greece, a front-row seat at pivotal moments in the showdown between the E.U. (and the International Monetary Fund, too) and Greece, the hardest hit of the debtor nations. The E.U. erred egregiously, he writes, in making draconian austerity policies the price of Greece’s rescue while letting the continent’s banks off scot free. The wrongness of this prescription, he says, is borne out today, five years later, with Greece prostrate under the burden of the E.U.’s highest external debt (in relation to its economy’s size), the highest unemployment (29 percent) and grim social and psychological fallout. Deep budget cuts and higher taxes have cost Greece a quarter of its pre-crisis wealth, rendering a recovery impossible, according to Galbraith, perhaps forever. Greece’s withdrawal from the euro zone, he suggests, would have been preferable.

 Galbraith understands the eurocrisis largely as a byproduct of the global banking and financial disaster triggered in the United States in 2007, which the ­center-right governments in Germany and France exploited to crush the left-wing government in Greece and its allies elsewhere in southern Europe. Leftist governments, Galbraith says, won’t get relief from the punishment of austerity, slashed wages, reduced pensions and the fire sale of state assets until their politics return to the center. Until then, they will suffer and the wealth disparity between northern and southern Europe will widen.

Greece, Galbraith writes, could become something like “a Caribbean dependency of the United States. Its professional population will continue to leave, and its working classes will also either emigrate or sink into destitution. Or perhaps they will fight.”

Fighting, however, didn’t get Syriza or Galbraith’s friend, the controversial ­January-to-June-2015 Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, very far. Even a national referendum rejecting the terms of a bailout didn’t manage to dilute the poison the Greeks had to swallow. The way out, argues Galbraith, ever the Keynesian, is a multi-pronged approach that includes a spending program like the postwar Marshall Plan.

For his part, Merritt presents the recipes of several research institutions, all of which call for rejuvenating the E.U.’s structures to make them more democratic, flexible and efficient. He, like Galbraith and other E.U. advocates, insists that deeper political and economic integration is the answer. Yet, he concedes, because Europe’s political spectrum is fractured as never before, with national interests regularly trumping common cause, the lesser evil at the moment may be smaller, tactical interventions to complete the single market, invest in research, modernize infrastructure and strengthen foreign policy mechanisms.

Doing nothing at all is the worst option, the authors agree, a conclusion dramatically reinforced by the Brexit vote. That would condemn the E.U. to muddle from crisis to crisis until finally one of those crises takes it down once and for all.

Paul Hockenos is a Berlin-based writer. His “Berlin Calling: Anarchy, Punk Rock, Techno, and the Birth of the New Berlin” will come out next year.

A version of this review appears in print on August 21, 2016, on page BR16 of the Sunday Book Review with the headline: Europe Is Falling . . . .

Revisiting John Maynard Keynes–The Father of Macro-Economics


August 20, 2016

Revisiting John Maynard Keynes–The Father of Macro-Economics

In the long run we are all dead.–Lord Keynes

For Economists, social scientists and policy wonks among us. Remember what happened to the global economy following the banking crisis in 2008. Did Keynes’s General Theory (1936) saved us? Listen to Keynes’s Eminent Biographer  Lord Skidelsky deliver his speech to commemorate the 80th Anniversary of the publication of the book. –Din Merican

ON  Keynes:

John Maynard Keynes (June 5, 1883 – April 21, 1946) was one of the most influential economists of the Twentieth Century. His ground breaking work in the 1930s led to the development of a whole new economic discipline dedicated to macroeconomics. In particular, his economic theories termed ‘Keynesianism’ advocated government intervention to end the Great Depression.

keynes

John M. Keynes was born in Cambridge to an upper middle class family. His father was a lecturer in economics and moral sciences at Cambridge university. He was bright scholar won a scholarship to Eton College. After Eton, he studied Mathematics at Kings College, Cambridge. It was here that the great economist Alfred Marshall encouraged Keynes to take up the relatively new science of Economics. He published his first economic article in 1909, and by 1911 was editor of the Economic Journal.

During the First World War, Keynes acted as a government advisor for the government. He helped to negotiate terms with Britain’s creditors (UK debt rose sharply in World War One. At the end of the First World War, Keynes took part in the British delegation to the Treaty of Versailles. Keynes was shocked at the level of reparations the Allies wanted to impose on the Germans. Keynes resigned from the British delegation saying it was a recipe for bankrupting Germany. He wrote the Economic Consequences of the Peace in 1919, accurately predicting the difficulties Germany would have and the consequent political resentment at such as harsh peace treaty.

If we aim deliberately at the impoverishment of Central Europe, vengeance, I dare predict, will not limp.

The Economic Consequences of the Peace (1919)  Chapter VII, Section 1, pg.268

In the 1920s, Keynes was a fearsome critique of Britain’s decision to remain in the gold standards at a pre 1914 level. Keynes argued that this high value of sterling made life difficult for British exporters and was the main reason for the deflation and high unemployment the UK experienced in the 1920s.

It was the Great Depression of 1929-39, which gave Keynes the opportunity to disparage and challenge the classical orthodoxy which dominated economic theory at the time. At the outbreak of the Great Depression, the classical response was to rely on free markets and balance the budget. The classical response was to try and balance the government budget, through tax increases and government spending. In 1931, Keynes was particularly critical of Ramsay McDonald’s austerity budget which cut public investment, wages and increased taxes. Keynes argued that the government should be doing the opposite. Throughout the 1930s, Keynes was a consistent voice for advocating higher government spending funded through higher borrowing. However, in most democracies, it proved a lone voice – apart from intermittent spending as part of Roosevelt’s new deal.

The basic principle of Keynes’ work was that in a recession, there were wasted resources due to falling private sector investment and spending. Therefore, the government should step in and by increasing government spending making the unemployed resources, lying idle become used. See more at explanation of Keynesian economics

Keynes was also a great publicist of his own views, with a knack of attracting attention. For example, when he saw a waiter with nothing to do, he knocked some serviettes on to the floor. He explained to his bemused friends he was trying to prevent unemployment by creating work. In his General Theory, he used the analogy of digging holes in the ground to explain concepts of aggregate demand.

Keynes was also a great publicist of his own views, with a knack of attracting attention. For example, when he saw a waiter with nothing to do, he knocked some serviettes on to the floor. He explained to his bemused friends he was trying to prevent unemployment by creating work. In his General Theory, he used the analogy of digging holes in the ground to explain concepts of aggregate demand.

To dig holes in the ground“, paid for out of savings, will increase, not only employment, but the real national dividend of useful goods and services. It is not reasonable, however, that a sensible community should be content to remain dependent on such fortuitous and often wasteful mitigations when once we understand the influences upon which effective demand depends.

His work created some notable soundbites – he popularised the idea of the paradox of thrift (individual saving causes aggregate spending to fall). He also coined the phrase ‘in the long run we are all dead’.

The long run is a misleading guide to current affairs. In the long run we are all dead. Economists set themselves too easy, too useless a task if in tempestuous seasons they can only tell us that when the storm is past the ocean is flat again. A Tract on Monetary Reform (1923) Ch. 3.

This phrase was an ironic criticism of classical theory, which argued markets would return to equilibrium ‘in the long run’

His ground breaking work – The General theory of Employment, Interest and Money (1936) provided a framework for macroeconomics and was a radical departure from the more limited classical framework. After the war, to varying degrees, governments in the West, pursued Keynesian demand management in an attempt to achieve full employment. This led the US president R. Nixon to declare in the 1960s – “we’re all Keynesians now.” In the 1970s, the reputation of Keynes’ work was challenged by the neo-classical economists – monetarists, such as Milton Friedman. But, the great recession of 2008-2013 led to a resurgence of interest in Keynes’ explanation for prolonged recessions.

In 1940, his health suffered, and he had to cut back on his workload. However, after the Second World War, he was asked to take part in the British negotiations with America over debt repayments. It was Keynes’ job to emphasise to the Americans how bankrupt the UK was. The American delegation who met Keynes were deeply impressed by his intellect and passion. Though they couldn’t meet his demands until congress became worried about the spread of Communism in Europe, and agreed to extend the terms of credit.

Outside economics, Keynes was lover of the arts, opera and noted for his exceptional wit. He was a formidable, intellect and even critics admitted he had both great intellect and powers of persuasion.

Every time I argued with Keynes, I felt that I took my life in my hands and I seldom emerged without feeling something of a fool.

Bertrand Russell

Austrian economist Friedrich von Hayek who came up with an economic theory (Austrian economics), very different to Keynes, wrote:

He was the one really great man I ever knew, and for whom I had unbounded admiration. The world will be a very much poorer place without him.

Another quality of Keynes was his optimism and belief in finding a solution. Whilst many despaired at the social and economic cost of the Great Depression, to Keynes, he saw a way out – it need not be like this.

He used his knowledge of economics to make a fortune on the stock market, though in 1929, he failed to predict the stock market crash, and lost a fortune. However, in the 1930s, he saw his financial investments make a good return, as he made a number of astute investments. He was a member of the Bloomsbury Group, a fashionable society of Cambridge graduates, who also included Virginia Woolf and E.M.Forster

Keynes married the ballerina Lydia Lopokova, but, had a number of affairs with both women and men. He tragically died from a heart attack in 1946, just as he was helping to implement the post war economic settlement and set up the Bretton-Woods system.

Citation : Pettinger, Tejvan. “Biography of John M Keynes“, Oxford, www.biographyonline.net 3 Feb. 2013

Influence of John M Keynes

  • Provided dissenting voice at Treaty of Versailles about harshness of peace treaty. Later, many in Britain felt guilt at terms of Treaty, which justified appeasement.
  • Opposition to Gold Standard. In 1931 Britain finally left Gold Standard, which Keynes had criticised for a long-time.
  • Giving sense of hope in Great Depression. As Bertrand Russell says in his autobiography:“There are still many people in America who regard depressions as acts of God. I think Keynes proved that the responsibility for these occurences does not rest with Providence.”
  • Sustained attack on orthodox ‘classical economics’. In 1930s, the UK and US governments didn’t really listen to Keynes, but he did change the study of economics, creating a seismic shift in the subject – which would later incorporate Keynesian ideas into text books and economic theory. Joan Robinson said: “The consequences of Mr. Keynes’s attack upon orthodoxy are very far reaching. First, it cuts the ground from under the pretended justification of inequality, and allows us to see the monstrous absurdity of our social system with a fresh eye.”
  • Keynes is credited with the creation of the branch of macro-economics – which up until that point economics was only concerned with micro-economics.
  • Keynes helped negotiated credit terms with US after the war. In 1965, Time Magazine led with a story, quoting Milton Friedman ‘We’re all Keynesians now’
  • A pacifist for much of his life, in 1936, he argued Britain should rearm in face of Nazi threat.

John M. Keynes Biography

Bobby Kennedy: The Making of an Icon.


August 19, 2016

Reading about the life and death of Robert F. Kennedy, the reader can’t help but be reminded of the striking parallels between the late 1960s and today — polarized politics, racial tensions and growing social anxiety and tumult. It’s also impossible not to think about the vast gulf between the idealistic hopes Kennedy inspired among his young followers, and the fear and cynicism that have marked this year’s presidential campaign.

No one has captured Kennedy’s 1968 race with as much visceral immediacy as Thurston Clarke did in “The Last Campaign” (2008), but Larry Tye’s absorbing new biography, “Bobby Kennedy,” does a compelling job of showing how a tough-guy counsel to the red-baiting, demagogic Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s became, in the next decade, “a liberal icon” beloved for his dedication to the poor and disenfranchised.

In light of the abundance of works on Kennedy (including Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.’s massive “Robert Kennedy and His Times” and Evan Thomas’s “Robert Kennedy: His Life”), there’s not a lot substantially new in this volume, but Mr. Tye — the author of a critically acclaimed biography of Satchel Paige — has a keen gift for narrative storytelling and an ability to depict his subject with almost novelistic emotional detail.

Instead of echoing the young Kennedy’s own proclivity for seeing things in absolutist Manichaean terms, Mr. Tye does not rely on the reductive “good Bobby” and “bad Bobby” dichotomies that the scholar Ronald Steel employed in his judgmental 1999 book, “In Love With Night.” Instead, the fair-minded Mr. Tye thoughtfully maps the many contradictions in his subject’s life, and his gradual evolution over the years, as he began to clarify his own beliefs (as opposed to those handed down by his father and older brother), shedding his “Cold Warrior” reflexes and growing increasingly concerned about the poverty and injustice that plagued his country.

The assassination of his brother, President John F. Kennedy, is frequently cited as the watershed moment in Robert’s life — the grief cracked open his “hard-as-nails shell” and sent him into a profound depression from which he would emerge transformed: more fatalistic, more empathetic, more inclined to display in public the tenderness his family and friends knew at home. He immersed himself in reading (Camus and Aeschylus and Shakespeare) and contemplated going away to study for a year, and there was a gradual softening of his hard edges and righteousness.

Mr. Tye gives us a visceral sense of the heartbreak Robert suffered in losing the brother he had ardently served for so many years as confidant, consigliere and enforcer. But he also situates that loss within the larger arc of his subject’s life. The Robert who emerges from this book is both a dreamer and a realist, “an idealist without illusions” in Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s words — the most passionate of the Kennedy brothers and, as one journalist observed, a man “constantly at war with himself.”

Robert “embraced contradiction in ways that neither Jack nor Teddy wanted to or could,” Mr. Tye writes. “His realism butted up against his romanticism even as the existentialist in him looked for ways to coexist with the politician. He was half ice, half fire.”

When the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was sent to jail in Georgia in 1960 over a traffic misdemeanor, Robert and John helped win his release — not out of a simple sense of justice, Mr. Tye says, but out of a complicated calculus of politics and conscience. During the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, Mr. Tye adds, Robert was both hawk and dove, and he worried about the human cost of the botched Bay of Pigs operation in Cuba, “even as he plotted new ones.”

The missile crisis, with its harrowing possibility of nuclear catastrophe, Mr. Tye argues, helped Robert understand that “a leader could be tough without being bellicose,” and it helped him find his own voice on foreign affairs and step out of “his brother’s long shadow.” Though it would take time for him to speak out against the Vietnam War, when he did so in 1967 it was with passion and a recognition of its futility and the suffering of the Vietnamese. He was able, Mr. Tye writes, to give voice to the outrage of the war’s opponents while bringing leverage to their cause in Washington with his Cold War “anti-Communist credentials.”

In these pages, Mr. Tye conscientiously strips away the accretions of myth that have come to surround Robert F. Kennedy, while at the same time creating a sympathetic portrait of this complex, searching man — a genuine pilgrim and a hard-nosed politician, a fierce romantic dedicated to “the art of the possible.”

Bobby Kennedy’s Grave at Arlington National Cemetery

“The Bobby Kennedy of 1968,” Mr. Tye writes, “was a builder of bridges — between islands of blacks, browns and blue-collar whites; between terrified parents and estranged youths; and between the establishment he’d grown up in and the New Politics he heralded. At age 42 he was on the way to becoming the tough liberal — or perhaps tender conservative — who might have stitched back together a divided land and whose vision seems at least as resonant in today’s polarized America.”

Follow Michiko Kakutani on Twitter: @michikokakutani

A version of this review appears in print on August 16, 2016, on page C1 of the New York edition with the headline: A Pragmatist Converting to Idealism. Today’s Paper

 

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