Thursday, April 7, 2011

The second death of Giacomo Matteotti

The Italian Socialist Party still uses the hammer and sickle emblem of 19th-century socialism. Outside of Italy this traditional icon of peasant-worker unity is used only by  communists.

The second death of Giacomo Matteotti

Review of Mr. Jonah Goldberg's Friendly Fascism: bla bla bla bla bla  

Category: 1/3 fiction, 2/3 non-fiction

At this stage I must defend Jonah Goldberg against the charge, so often leveled at the wacko right, of irrationalism. Goldberg is obviously  a clear-headed thinker. He knew what he was doing when he decided to write the political story of Italian Fascism without once mentioning Fascism’s and Mussolini’s fiercest and most celebrated opponent – the deputy whom for motives of prudence I shall refer to only as “Mr X “

To an orthodox historian Goldberg's approach might seem alarmingly eccentric.

But there is no escaping the fact that from a pragmatic standpoint, when writing Friendly Fascism, Goldberg had no choice but to keep silent as the grave about Mr. X, one of the most celebrated historical figures in 20th century Italy,  a man who gave his name to  hundreds of Italian streets and squares. To permit readers to suspect of Mr. X’ existence would have meant utter failure for the Goldbergian educational project.  

"It would have meant," Mr. Goldberg explains, "in popular parlance, 'to spill the beans', an idea that also appears in the vernacular as 'letting the cat out of the bag'”. These are two activities  in which Mr. Goldberg is exceedingly loath to engage. No wonder, in view of the trade he plies. “And what trade might that be?” asks the inquisitive reader.

“A swindler. A lying scumbag”

The grounds for Goldberg’s hush-hush approach: Mr. X, whose name can now be disclosed, as Giacomo Matteotti,  was the utter and unanswerable refutation of Goldberg’s main thesis in his boog, i.e. Matteotti flatly contradicted the right-wing cliché that socialism and Fascism are the same flabby thing.

So a ex-post analysis clearly indicates that Matteotti  was dead meat practically from the instant Goldberg decided to perpetrate Friendly Fascism on an unsuspecting public.  

The only thing that remained to be decided was how Matteotti would get  done in.

I can imagine Goldberg, working feverishly through the night while listening to Rush Limbaugh for inspiration, plotting accidental deaths for Matteotti, having Macedonian terrorists kill him after confusing him with the Yugoslav ambassador. There must have been so many dodges.

But Goldberg is evidently a prudent man and he did not fall into the temptation of creating a “synthetic” incident ( I hate using that horrid word “phony”) that would safely remove Matteotti from the political scene without causing too much of a ruckus, while simultaneously preventing the reader from finding out that shortly after Matteotti’s murder Mussolini shed all false modesty, relinquished his parliamentary costume and openly assumed dictatorial powers.

Too tricky. That's what callow shoplifters promptly discover when in police custody: the moment the cops get you talking, they’ll seize on any apparent contradiction in your story, disconcert you, make you nervous and hesitant, until you start stuttering. Eventually they're  able to pin something on you. Especially if you make a really stupid  mistake.  Something about Goldberg’s clueless demeanor in the mugshot suggests that he is capable of making REALLY stupid mistakes.

It was much simpler just to keep mum about Matteotti altogether, Goldberg decided.  Nobody in the US had ever heard of Matteotti anyway, and the boog was principally addressed to American ballot booth fodder. There would be no awkward questions. And Goldberg made extra sure no Italian editions were authorized, so the Italians didn't cotton on to Goldberg’s refined historiographical  modus operandi when dealing with the  past of their notoriously boot-shaped peninsula. Those Italians  would never understand the need for these theoretically advanced approaches to contemporary history, characterized by what can only be called "blind counter-factuals", whose principal raison d'être is that their exisentce is never disclosed to the reader.  . 
Sometimes I wonder in which historical school we should classify Jonah Goldberg. I must say that as far as conservatives go, Goldberg is a far sight less discerning than, Edmund Burke, say.  And I also note that he is a pathological liar, like most people who write for National Review. Really nothing but a political hack, a penny - a - liner. Not the same class as Burke at all, I'm afraid.

Perhaps Mr. Goldberg belongs to what has been called the "useless mouths  school". Useless mouths are members of a criminal organization, who, when the chips are down, suddenly become expendable and are blithely abandoned to their  fate.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Comparative advantage once again: Ricardo, List and Krugman

In chapter 7 of his Principles of Political Economy and Taxation (1821), David Ricardo expounds his celebrated theory of comparative advantage in international trade. He creates a two-country model and calls the two countries England and Portugal. Furthermore the wares traded between the two countries are historically accurate: in Ricardo’s time England exported cloth to Portugal and imported wine therefrom, and these are the two wares traded in Ricardo’s model.

Ricardo’s theory of comparative advantage states that even if English cloth is dearer than Portuguese cloth, if Portugal can produce wine cheaply enough, Portugal will import English cloth, since Portugal would find it to its advantage to remove capital from the cloth industry and invest it in the wine industry.

So far so good.

Ricardo does not enquire into the historical operation of the factors that brought about this division of labour. This is not surprising, since Ricardo belonged to the Classical School, which was averse to most historical discussion and preferred to reason using static models in equilibrium.

Friedrich List belonged to the German Historical School. His method differed from Ricardo’s in that List was best described as an economic historian.

List tells the tale of Portugal’s textile industry in his work Das nationale System der Politischen Ökonomie (1841). List produces persuasive evidence that Portugal’s cloth industry flourished until it was undermined by the removal of the tariff that protected it from English cloth. Furthermore he shows that the English ambassador in Lisbon, Methuen, was instrumental in encouraging this reduction in tariffs.

Paul Krugman, in Ricardo’s difficult idea, accuses List of not understanding Ricardo’s comparative advantage theory. Nonetheless even if Krugman is right (and I suppose he is) this in no way detracts from List’s narrative.

List contradicts Ricardo, up to a point.

List’s tale seems to show that England’s trade advantage vis-à-vis Portugal was not comparative, but absolute. If England’s cloth had been dearer than Portugal’s, removal of the Portuguese tariff against English cloth would not have appreciably increased Portuguese cloth imports from England in the short term . Ricardo’s comparative advantage would operate only in the long term, as Portuguese capitalists discovered they could make larger profits by divesting from cloth manufacture and investing in vineyards. Portugal’s cloth production would then decline for lack of investment, and to make up for the missing cloth, Portugal would start importing English cloth.

Another matter altogether is whether the Portuguese economy in the  18th century provided channels for the transfer of productive capital from cloth-making to wine-making.