We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

“The first World War is one of the topics in history that interests me the most. I really think that if more people focused on leadership during that war, the concerns over “market failure” and the faith in political leadership would decline. I challenge anyone to come up with a group of business villains who caused as much death and suffering as the “legitimate” political leaders of 1914. My proposal for Veterans’ Day observances is that they should include a re-telling of the history of World War I along the lines of the Passover re-telling of the Exodus. My goal would be to help inoculate people from believing in the wisdom of the ruling class.”

Arnold Kling

17 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • cjf

    Don’t have to go back to WWI, WWII will do.
    Operation Keelhaul (and other cuties)

    The favorable part of “the left vs right” baloney, is that each finds the dirt on the other, which, after further investigations, leads to the mutual rot of all.

    Imagine a Wikileaks.org back then. Imagine overworked
    and underpaid assassins.

    To paraphrase H L Mencken, “When the right is in power man exploits man. When the left is in power, it is the opposite”

    From democrats to despots, they all represent the majority. All singing, all dancing, all lying, all stupid.
    They just(or only) want to be happy and have fun.
    Like playful, cute, lethal pets.

  • Admiral-Flota

    If you really want to think like a hard lefty, you don’t blame the political leadership for the world wars- you blame secret cabals of businessmen! It’s certainly a good way to simultaneously call for more government intervention of at best questionable efficacy, and to absolve their beloved state of its supreme responsibility for these appalling affairs.

  • Brad

    Plenty of businessmen have a share in the paleo-fascistic constructions in the ’00’s and early ’10’s that lead to WWI. The key factor is that they weren’t freemarketeers, they were Statists who desired the “efficiency” of oversight boards and bureaucratic departments. WWI gave them what they were looking for, some of which were never turned back, though WWI was the last war in which at least a goodly portion of State Growth due to the war was deconstructed. Such hasn’t happened since.

    So the left tries to portray that the businessmen responsible for such as WWI were self serving and greedy. They were merely a form of central control that all Statists are at their core. As it is in all Statists cases THEIR ox doesn’t get gored, just everyone else’s for The Cause.

  • Brad writes above:

    … though WWI was the last war in which at least a goodly portion of State Growth due to the war was deconstructed.

    I’d like some clarification of that, as my current view is that it’s wrong.

    The following 2 links show UK and USA government spending as a proportion of GDP, since 1800: UK Total Government Spend and Defence Spend, USA Total Government Spend and Defence Spend [Note: the USA figures are limited to federal spend, and today I don’t seem to be able to include state and local spend.]

    From these figures, there does not look to be a drop after WW1 in non-defence spending as a proportion of GDP, for either the UK or the USA. Non-defence government spending in both countries has increased, as a proportion of GDP, over most of the period since 1900. However, WW1 and WW2 have had noticeably greater (even step-like) non-defence government spending after them in both countries.

    Best regards

  • I remember being in a museum in Europe when I was 5 and seeing a WW1 painting and asked my father about what WW1 was about. He said this guy got shot and all the nations had all these treaties agreeing to go to war if the other did and the result was WW1.

    I didn’t believe him until I was in high school. WW1 was about millions of people dying of stupidity and leaders who thought they would benefit from war.

  • Businessmen do not normally have to deal with 2m heavily-armed Germans invading Belgium and France.

  • RRS

    May I suggest:

    The Pity of War

    by Nial Ferguson

    My study of that war, its “background,” Nationalisms, and its conduct began when I was 10, reading direct accounts and such things as Merchants of Death (very impressive at that age).

    One might also seek out the work of Eugene Myer (Fr. who taught inCalif) on Nationalism.

  • cjf

    USMC Maj.Gen.Smedley Darlington Butler
    Medal of Honor. Twice
    War Is a Racket. cheap or free online.

  • John B

    The businessmen referred to, who do wars, and the governments that do them, are more or less the same people. Just wearing different hats. Like the regulators of today and the banks and finance houses they want to regulate are also more or less the same people with different hats. It seems they divide themselves and rule. Which is quite clever. The Fed in the US is the big banks in a club. Not some external regulating mechanism. They act as socialists or capitalists but the give away is always control and/or manipulation.

  • Brad


    I was speaking more in terms of the martialling on the homefront more than the amounts going directly into military arsenals or troop levels etc.

    The reading I have done has led me to conclude that out of the cultural revolutions of the 1840’s two competing Statist rationales were born, one that led Marx et al to found communist thought, and the other group that gave rise to fascism. At the turn of the century there were many who wanted to found mechanisms that would create efficiency and eliminate waste. Basically set up a regulated economy where the “bad” in competition was wrung out of the system. Those who wanted to have a plutarchy got their first crucible with WWI (which itself was funded by central banking – the first important win for the collectivists). But much of the “war economy” measures that were put into place were undone (as people demanded more freedom and enough players within the bureaucracies wanted it as well) but certainly not all. Compared to WWII, in which even MORE control was put into place afterward, WWI, at least for the US, saw a dismantling of domestic economic control.

    And so it stands that a goodly number of the business elite wanted War and got it. The template for the Fascisms of FDR was laid at that point, and the second attempt (WWII) got it to stick. But, again going back to the roots of revolutions of 1848, it wasn’t about personal greed it was out of some progressivist notion of efficiency and the Good that only comes from centralized economies. The best way for Statists to gain control is to pick a fight with another country and lay the excuse for centralization. The last success in any way against such tricks was post WWI. We’ve seen nothing but ramping up of Statism in everyway since, especially the boost WWII gave.

  • John B

    This piece on the origin of the Fed is interesting. How they play at not being themselves: http://mises.org/daily/3823
    Don’t know how to do links.
    Brad – Mussolini started out as a socialist and just developed it, I think.

  • RRS

    Sorry, I mislabeled the work of Eugen Weber, a french historian, teaching in the U.S. as that of Myer.

    Weber’s survey of Nationalism is useful in understanding factors at work in the ignition of the Great War.

  • G. K. Chesterton had this nailed 100 years ago:

    There are no wise few. Every aristocracy that has ever existed has behaved, in all essential points, exactly like a small mob.

  • Only now that mob is so much larger.

  • Pa Annoyed

    “He said this guy got shot and all the nations had all these treaties agreeing to go to war if the other did and the result was WW1.”

    That was just the excuse. The real reason was that Germany saw other nations with colonies and land and wealth, and wanted it themselves. So they planned a war to take over Europe, and become the most powerful, and make sure all the trade and money came to them. And the other nations, who did not want to be taken over, and did not want to lose their own sources of wealth and trade, felt they had to try and stop them.

    They already had the Schlieffen plan and they were confident it would work. So when the Austro-Hungarians decided to dictate unmeetable terms to Serbia, using the assassination as justification (which followed from the A-H’s annexation of Bosnia and the consequent persecution of the Serbs there), the Germans were happy to back them to the hilt. The Russians supported their fellow Slavs and mobilised, and France was allied to Russia, so the Germans launched their long-planned invasion of France through the neutral countries of Belgium and Luxembourg as well as Russian Poland the other way. Belgium appealed for aid to Britain, and Britain knowing it needed the Belgian ports free for trade to Europe, could not afford to have a hostile power controlling the European economy, or an expansionist, recently victorious army camped along the channel, or France’s enmity should we be seen to have abandoned them to their fate, decided that it must take part.

    The Germans were not incompetent – their plan nearly succeeded. Similar sorts of plans had succeeded in the past, and had won empires. The Allied nations were not incompetent – they had little choice in the matter if they were to have any long term future. And whatever you might think of the morality of their own empires and acquisitions, and the grubbiness of some of their own actions and strategies in the run-up, hanging on to the prosperity they brought was at least a rational motive. They were stupid in the way all humans are stupid.

    This was the event in history where we learned the lessons that we are now criticising them for not having known. Without it, we might still be thinking in the old way.

  • Paul Marks

    I do not think any business enterprise could surive more than one “walk slowing towards the machine guns” operation, even a mercenary group (indeed especially a mercenary group) would not going if for such a wasteful use of “human resources” in return for no gain what-so-ever. All the major governement armies did this – both with volunteers and with conscripts, butchery of millions of men.

    As for the war production side of the war.

    France has a fraction of the size German heavy industry before World War One – partly because Germany had more natural resourses (espeically as the coal and iron containing bits of France were mostly captured by the Germans in 1870) and partly because Germany had a much bigger population – and various Germans may simply have been better at heavy industry than various Frenchmen.

    During WWI the Germans went in for the “scientific” policy of “War Socialism” whereas the French did not bother – and allowed the “anarchy of production” with the government buying stuff off anyone who would make it.

    Yes you guessed it – French production of shells was greater than that of the Germans (a result that would have been thought impossible in 1914) and French equipment ended up just as high quality (if not better).

    And this is the army that started in 1914 in bright colours and without helmets.

    The “chaos of production” method (allowing business enterprises to get on with making what you are paying them for) was also the secret of American war production in Second World War.

  • Pa Annoyed

    “I do not think any business enterprise could surive more than one “walk slowing towards the machine guns” operation”

    Many business enterprises don’t. Many go bankrupt, as a result of inexperience, limited resources, and unexpected events. Some businesses do routinely operate with a very high staff turnover. And some are offered little choice about when and how they are to act.

    One of the reasons that businesses do better than governments is that businesses are allowed to fail, so the ones that survive are the good ones. But you must never forget that businesses fail. More than 50% go under within three or four years. Natural selection is a cruel business.