Category: History

Stalin, Shakespeare, and Tarzan

Dmitri Shostakovich noted that Stalin was forced to ban Shakespeare, as he understood all too well the political implications of Macbeth, Hamlet, and King Lear.

We also learn:

Dmitri Shostakovich recalled that ‘Stalin loved films and he saw The Great Waltz, about Johann Strauss, many times, dozens of times…Stalin also liked Tarzan films, he saw all the episodes.”

Tarzan was popular with Soviet citizens as well, which led to a “cult of youth” in the image of the Tarzan hero. Soviet leaders apparently were comfortable with the political implications of The King of the Jungle, raised by beasts.

From the recent book The Dancer Defects: The Struggle for Cultural Supremacy during the Cold War, by David Caute.

NY Times Wrong on Iraqi Gun Ownership

In March, Neil MacFarquhar of the New York Times asserted that guns were easy and legal to obtain in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. The NRA has long argued that guns are a bulwark against the police state so Slate’s Timothy Noah challenged the NRA to explain “how Iraq got to be, and remains, one of the world’s most repressive police states when just about everyone is packing heat.” Noah later rejected reader explanations of this apparent paradox, including the possibility that MacFarquhar was wrong, and “reluctantly” concluded that private gun ownership is not a bulwark against a police state.

Today, however, John Tierney of the New York Times reports that “Mr. Hussein, never one to tolerate competition, forbade private citizens to carry weapons, effectively outlawing the security industry.”

Clearly, the New York Times is wrong. But where does the truth lie?

Early Amazon civilization discovered

Researchers have now found hard evidence that the Amazon had a sophisticated and populous civilization, before the arrival of Columbus.

The finds lay to rest the notion that the region was pristine forest when the explorer landed in 1492…Although there was probably some untouched forest in the region, Heckenberger [the researcher] reckons that most was managed by the inhabitants and kept for cultural and symbolic, rather than economic, reasons. “It was probably very important to them just as Central Park is important to New Yorkers,” he says.

Here is the original link from Nature. Many individuals have been attached to “crankier” versions of this theory, suggesting that “prehistory” in the Americas was quite advanced, see here for a more skeptical take.

Iraq and the Marshall Plan

According to some estimates, we will spend $20 billion on Iraqi infrastructure over the next year, half of Iraqi gdp (don’t take Iraqi gdp statistics too seriously!). Andrew Sullivan has been asking how our assistance to Iraq compares to the Marshall Plan of postwar Europe. Here are some answers, drawn from a 1985 piece I wrote “The Marshall Plan: Myths and Realities,” click here for an on-line summary, the piece appeared in Doug Bandow’s U.S. Aid to the Developing World.

The Marshall Plan did not ever exceed 5 percent of the gross national product of the recipient nations. In the case of Germany, note that we were taking more out of Germany, in the forms of reparations and occupation cost reimbursements (11 to 15 percent of West German gnp), than we were ever putting in. Then throughout the mid-1950s, Bonn repaid half of the aid it had received. Note that German economic recovery followed from liberalization and reforms, which predated Marshall Plan aid.

In 1949-50, our Marshall Plan aid to France was roughly equivalent to French military expenditures abroad in Indochina and North Africa.

Of the European nations, arguably Belgium recovered from World War II most rapidly, and this happened before Marshall Plan aid kicked in.

At the end of World War II, the Austrian economy was one of the most desperate in Europe. Austria received high per capita aid sums, but the economy stagnated. Austria later recovered, when it improved its monetary and fiscal policies. Marshall Plan supporter Franz Nemschak wrote: “The radical cuts in foreign aid in the last year of the Marshall Plan and the stabilization tendencies in the world economy forced Austria to make a basic change in economic policy.” Greece received high per capita aid as well, but had a poor recovery.

The lesson for Iraq?: Simply spending money won’t get us there. See these Rand Corporation figures, showing that per capita aid does not correlate obviously with the eventual success of a reconstruction. The key question is whether the Iraqis can build healthy institutions. Walking away is not the answer, but don’t feel good just because you see more money being spent.

Addendum: I have scanned the whole essay and put it on-line.

Who is Leo Strauss?

Leo Strauss is often considered a leading influence behind the neo-conservatives in the Bush administration. Or perhaps you have met a “Straussian” at a Liberty Fund conference. Or perhaps you have read Allan Bloom praising Strauss. To my mind Strauss is one of the most important twentieth century intellectuals, either directly or indirectly, he taught several generations of scholars how to read classic texts. I’ve had many economists ask me about Strauss (note: I am not a Straussian), here is one good recent summary, by Steven Lenzner and William Kristol, drawn from The Public Interest.