Recommended Articles: Business, Economic and Financial History

List of selected articles that I read last week that may be of your interest:

  1. Super-cycles of commodity prices since the mid-ninteenth century. Bilge Erten
  2. Against Liberty: Adorno, Levinas and the Pathologies of Freedom. Nelson, Eric S.
  3. Lords of Uhuru: the political economy of elite competition and institutional change in post-independence Kenya. Bedasso, Biniam
  4. The Euro crisis: a historical perspective. Mourlon-Druol, Emmanuel
  5. Economics and ethics: a historical approach. Ciani Scarnicci, Manuela
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Travel Diary: Prices, Unions and Freedom in one of the richest countries of the World

Prices in a capitalist economy reflect the relative scarcity of a good or service as well as the amount and intensity of consumer demand. Free-market prices are the only viable means of rational economic calculation. If a good or service becomes in shorter supply, for whatever reason, its price will rise, all other things being equal. The higher price will give consumers the proper incentive to do what is needed whenever anything becomes scarcer: conserve, or cut back on consumption. DiLorenzo in “How Capitalism Saved America

Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending the Oslo Objectivist Conference 2012 in Oslo, Norway in which I enjoyed a weekend of Philosophy, Objectivity and a celebration of Individual Rights.  On Monday before returning to my base in Leipzig, I decided to spend the day enjoying the parks and streets of the city (one of my favorites) and during lunch I went to eat buffalo wings in front of the City Hall Park.

That noon I was reading the last pages of the book “How Capitalism Saved America” by Thomas DiLorenzo and was writing extensive notes in my notebook criticizing many of his arguments in favor of capitalism due to lack of consistency and integration.  Leaving those morality issues aside, I was very interested in his historical explanation on the role that Unions (and privileged groups of interest) have had in destroying the foundations (principles) of capitalism in the United States since the foundation of the country.  Curiously, that same day the Farmers Union of Norway gathered in front of the park to do a countrywide protest (news).

As DiLorenzo writes, Unions have claimed for decades to be representatives of the “interests” of society, workers, middle class, proletarians and et. al. However, it has been actually only in the interests of the Union’s leadership and their pursuit of cronyism that they have actually worked by being concerned only in “their own membership rolls and dues revenues”. Examples from the Unions intervention in the destruction of the most successful industries of the  United States are explained by DiLorenzo’s book.

On Monday, the disgruntled Norwegian farmers decided to take the streets against the recent decisions of the government in April, 2012 to subsidy of Agriculture by granting only 625 million Norwegian Kroner instead of the 2.2 billion they asked.  The Norwegian Farmers’ Union (NFU) decided to take their trucks and cows and occupy the doors of the City Hall in Oslo; in other cities and towns the mayors were even kidnapped by the unionists.

This protest arise after the Parliament decided that that food prices should rise 20 percent in the next 20 years in line with expected population growth, providing sufficient income to both achieve this and ensure continued recruitment to farming (this reminds me of Hayek’s ideas on the Fatal Conceit). The NFU doesn’t agree.  They consider that the average annual incomes are under 300,000 kroner per man-labour year, whilst it is 469,000 on average in other sectors.  They also claim to represent the “interests” of 100,000 jobs in agriculture and food industry and not only to be seeking for more money for farmers (yeah, right).

Norway is one of the richest countries in the world and its society lives in very comfortable conditions.  The Leviathan in government charges immense amounts of taxes and inflation is incredible.  Just to illustrate the size of Leviathan: The buffalo wings and a beer cost me the high price of 250 krone (aprox. 33 euro or US$41.00 in T.G.I. Friday’s) That same meal would have cost me much less if bought in the U.S. or anywhere else in the world .

How can they afford it? The population earns artificial higher incomes due to the government interventions in the economy and disrupts the economy of the country.  How did the country reached such a condition can only be understood by taking a close and detailed attention to the role interventionism has in a country’s economy.  The effect: high prices, unstoppable high taxes and widespread limitation of liberties behind the power that Unions, groups of interests, politicians and bureacrats have had in the economy for decades.

Slowly but consistently, the Unions and crony capitalists in the bureaucracy of the Norwegian country have made it impossible to be free to exchange products in the country without any type of government intervention.  While Norwegians seem to be free, their daily lives are unconsciously been managed and controlled by a gigantic government that regulated every instant of their lives.

As DiLorenzo described, “Ludwig von Mises initially explained back in the 50s in this theory of government interventionism: one intervention (such as subsidies for railroads) leads to market distortions, which create problems for which the public “demands” solutions. Government responds with even more interventions, usually in the form of more regulation of business activities, which cause even more problems, which lead to more intervention, and on and on. The end result is that free-market capitalism is more and more heavily stifled by regulation. And on top of that, usually the free market, not government intervention, gets the blame.”

I would love to go back to Oslo and if possibilities arise to settle and live there for a couple years. I wish that my passion for buffalo wings will bring me to experience a story to write about and meditate again.  As for now, I return to write about Capitalism while sitting in a desk in Leipzig, Germany.

Drugs: A Legal Market is not a Free Market

English: Flower of a Opium Poppy
Image via Wikipedia

A couple days ago, Otto Perez Molina, recently elected as President of Guatemala; announced that he was willing to decriminalize the commercialization of drugs. According to U.S. authorities, Guatemala has became the transshipment point for more than 75 percent of the cocaine smuggled into the United States since 2005.  Along with this, the Opium poppy cultivation is already done in large parts of the countryside making the production of Guatemalan heroin a greater and the newest worry for the United States. The country’s elites are already part of this business and the paranoia of crimes that used be a remembrance from Colombia‘s 1990s history seems to be repeating in these Central American countries.

What impresses me the most now is how this news has started spreading around my Facebook contacts (mostly libertarians and liberals). Both groups seem to be happy to hear this announcement by Guatemala’s President.  However, both groups applaud the news for different reasons.  The legalization/decriminalization of drugs will not be the panacea we all are hoping for.  Specially not if started by any of the Central American governments.  The reasons are many and I will begin by listing some of them to open the discussion,

  • Corruption, lax enforcement, and judicial impunity levels in Central America are among the highest of the world.
  • Drug lords and their new and powerful money have been mentioned by many analysts to be already part of the politic and economic elites of these countries.
  • The Central American countries in which this drugs are produced and transported are inhabited by a large majority of people living in the lowest leves of Human Development.
  • If legalized, the trade, production and commercialization of drugs (cocaine and heroine mainly) will be regulated by these governments.
  • Without any doubt, this regulations will enable and create legalized monopolies ruled with the partnership of previous drug lords and government officials.
  • It has not been advocated by any of the political leaders which road would take the legalization of drugs. This is important, because under current legalization procedures it is not the same to get the approval for a new medicine in the market as to get the approval for a new liquor, a new energizing drink or of a new edible product.

The history of the legalization (production, trade and commercialization) of items considered by many as drugs and for others as commodities has shown that for as long as a government elite hold the power to legalize it; it was in their power to take the first steps into the acquisition of a monopoly of its trade and production.

If legalized, the emergence of a coercive monopoly would be inevitable. As noted by Ayn Rand, the governments and their partners in these coercive monopolies “will be able of setting the initial prices and production policies independently of the market, with immunity from competition, from the law of supply and demand. An economy dominated by such monopolies would be rigid and stagnant.”

If we support the complete and absolute free trade of all commodities it is necessary that we do not grant to government an intrinsic right to regulate it.  No compromise should ever be done with a government that requires regulation in order to give us legalization.  Legalization should result in freedom and not in regulation.  The drug trade should be opened to businessmen and entrepreneurs in the freest way possible. The freest way is that of requiring the traders to inform their buyers about all the necessary information about the products they are offering.

We may be taking part in a historical moment in which the most important thing are principles.  Let us remember that one of the most valuable principles of trade is Freedom; and that one of the most valuable principles of government is to seek that i will Protect Individual Rights and not to regulate their lives.

Note: To understand more which are the principles that really matter in this discussion, I invite you to take a look to the video titled: The Drug War in Guatemala: A Conversation with Giancarlo Ibarguen.

From One Prohibition to Another (1933-2011)

On December 05, 1933 the Prohibition on the production and commercialization of Alcohol was finally over in the United States when Utah became the 36th U.S. state to ratify the Twenty-first Amendment to the United States Constitution. Thus establishing the required 75% of states needed to enact the amendment (this overturned the 18th Amendment which had made the manufacturing, transportation, import, export, sale, and consumption of alcohol and alcoholic beverages illegal in the United States).

Since then, the alcohol industry (widely hated and considered evil before 1933) started developing into one of the most successful industries of the modern world.  The access to competition ignited an immense diversification of marketing, production and commercialization strategies that improved the quality, safety, additives and capabilities of the previous distilled liquors.

By 2010 The world’s five biggest alcohol companies by market cap had their hubs in Beligum Anheuser-Busch Inbev (BUD), Brazil (Companhia de Bebidas das Américas (AMBEV) (ABV); United Kingdom (Diageo plc (DEO), The Netherlands (Heineken (HINKY.PK) and France (Pernod-Ricard (PDRDF.PK).  And the industry gives provides with jobs to millions of workers around the globe.

Today, in 2011 we face a different but at the same time similar Prohibition of a product.  I refer to the research, production, industrialization and commercialization of controlled drugs (marihuana, cocaine, etc.) that has been condemned by world government with the same irrational argument once used with alcohol.

Because of this Prohibition on Drugs; the world is facing a Trillionaire war leaded by the United States politicians who profit from it. More so, millions of jobs are lost every day and in the countries in which it is produced and stored before reaching the final markets the chaos reigns (for just one story of how this chaos come into being check: The Drug War in Guatemala: A Conversation with Giancarlo Ibarguen).

Let us learn from history and save our children and future generations from committing the same mistakes.

Book Reco: El amanecer de la libertad by Carlos Sabino

Carlos Sabino‘s latests book composes an historiographic evaluation of Latin American history and its heroes from a pro-libertarian, free market perspective. The book is an evaluation of the intellectual influences behind the Independence Movements in the region and how they still influence current political structures. I invite you to listen to this lecture by Prof. Sabino, (audio in Spanish)

Presentación del libro “El amanecer de la libertad”

Video: Larry H. White talks about his upcoming book “The Clash of Economic Ideas”

 

Lawrence H. White is professor of economics at George Mason University and the F. A. Hayek Professor of Economic History in the department of economics at University of Missouri — St. Louis. His teaching and research areas include economic history, monetary theory, money and banking, and history of economic thought. White holds a PhD and a MA in economics from University of California at Los Angeles; he also received his AB in the same area from Harvard University. He is visiting professor at Universidad Francisco Marroquín.

Visit “The Clash of Economic Ideas” video collection
http://newmedia.ufm.edu/gsm/index.php/The_Clash_of_Economic_Ideas

Produced by New Media / UFM 2011
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Egypt and the first modern factories

Today I had an epiphany in Economic History thanks to Ph.D. Isa Blumi who gave a lecture on “The Ottoman Legacy: Socio-Economic Dynamics and the Origins of Modern Politics” emphasizing the economic history of Egypt and The Ottoman Empire during the 18th. and 19th Centuries.

The first great argument was rooted in how Egypt had been already transforming its economy and society long before The Napoleonic French Campaign (1798-1801).  As well, he made very clear how Napoleon’s interest in acquiring Egypt’s wheat was much more important than posing for a picture in front of the Sphinx. He explained the consequences of this invasion and the resulting liberation of Egypt by the genious of Muhammad Ali Pasha.

The epiphany to my research interest came when he localized the first modern factory 2,500 miles away from the cities of Derby, Birmingham and Manchester. Most surely, researching this argument would surely enlighten the current historiography of Economic History and establish more roots of entrepreneurial activity, innovation and mass production in the Middle East.  Doing this will also disentail the roots of the creation of Wealth from the Eurocentric historigraphy that has been in fact characterized by its antipodes: mercantilism, patrimonialism and altruism.

If you are interested in learning more of this subjects here are recommended readings that Professor Blumi shared with me: