New interests and different locations are provided by an iPad app that gathers pages relevant to my interests, and lets me indulge particular subjects, like “Ancient History.” This gives me the impression I am learning something, and perhaps I am, but when you finish an article about Xobar the Cruel who ruled during the Middle Period of the Crinchothian Empire (140 square miles in modern-day Herzo-Slavbonia) you think “well, there’s something of which I was previously unaware, and let’s preen for a second about being the sort of person who cares about ancient history,” and then it’s all forgotten. It’s all the history of rulers, which means the history of cruelty, and the remnants of settlements, which means the history of floors and walls and tombs. I fault myself for not having a better grasp on the shadowy beginnings of civilization; it doesn’t snap into focus until the Greeks, and then you’re surprised because they have shoes and religion and government and traditions and the rest of the recognizable pillars that hold up the ceiling mankind builds to put some space between himself and the raging caprices of the gods above. Except for Egypt, where they were doing stuff for a long time, but it was weird.
James Lileks, The Bleat, 2014-04-01
October 22, 2014
July 23, 2014
In History Today, Colin Shindler reviews a recent collection of essays on the initially successful surprise attack on Israeli forces by Egypt, Syria, and a token brigade from Jordan in early October, 1973.
During the early afternoon of October 6th, 1973 the Egyptian army crossed the Suez Canal and overran the Israeli Bar-Lev line on the eastern bank. This assault on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, was designed to reverse Israel’s conquest of the Sinai peninsula during the 1967 Six Day War.
Six hundred Syrian tanks, outnumbering Israel’s 178, also advanced to reclaim the Golan Heights and to threaten a penetration of Israel’s heartland. The mehdal (blunder) indicated a profound intelligence failure and cost 2,691 Israeli lives. Forty years on, Asaf Siniver has gathered his colleagues to dissect this war in a series of essays.
The October or Ramadan War – as it is known in Egypt – is celebrated as a holiday even though Arab losses were around 18,000. The Yom Kippur war – as it is known in Israel – is regarded more as an enforced stalemate, even though Israeli forces crossed back over the canal, encircled the Egyptian Third Army and were 60 miles from Cairo. The Syrians, too, were pushed back and the Israelis shelled the outer suburbs of Damascus. Soviet threats to involve the USSR directly in the conflict forced President Nixon to stop the Israelis in their tracks.
February 9, 2014
Nigel Davies looks at the uncritical admiration of the form of democracy (while actively ignoring the actual practice) among Western media people:
It is interesting to look around the world at the moment and identify the failures of democracy, and to be amused by the Western media’s complete incomprehension of what is going on and why.
Time and time again you get headlines about how people should stand back and accept the ‘democratically elected government’, despite the fact that the democratic result was a fairly evil dictator keen on persecution, mass murder, civil war and ethnic cleansing.
This is because most ignorant Western journalists believe as an absolute truth that ‘democracy’ is a good thing, despite all the evidence that democracy is as bad, or even worse, than any other form of government. (Interestingly many non-western journalists treat democracy with considerable scepticism, which baffles Western journalists even more.)
Just to be clear Robespiere, Napoleon III, Mussolini and Adolf Hitler were in some form ‘democratically elected’ leaders, and every Communist dictator, ever, has regularly received about 97% of the popular vote in their countries.
Which brings us to unofficial one party states, like South Africa, where there is a popular vote which means virtually nothing. People get a say, but there is no chance of removing the party which — very largely through its dreadful economic and social policies — has kept the vast majority of the voters ignorant and poor (while flooding them with propaganda suggesting that result is an outside conspiracy, and only the people’s party can save them …) Actually some of you might recognise this more directly as being Mugabe’s very blunt approach, but the principal is the same when adopted by more weasely worded one party statists (for whom too many Western journalists have a romanticised and highly inaccurate perspective).
Most African (and many Asian and Middle Eastern … and Eastern European) ‘nations’ that pretend to democracy, are effectively one party states where the ‘opposition’ is never really going to be allowed to get anywhere.
A current example he points to is Egypt:
I am not just talking about people like Hitler who managed to manipulate 25-30% of the vote to dominate a chaotic parliament long enough to change all the rules and entrench their power. (Though that appears to be the default result for 90-95% of all Republics throughout all history, so perhaps it is worthy of some reflection.) No, I am more interested in places where a genuine majority of the population vote repeatedly for a leader who every educated and thinking (not the same thing unfortunately) person knows will lead them to disaster.
Effectively what we are talking about here is popularistic appeals to the ignorant peasantry who make up the majority of the population.
Egypt recently elected the Muslim Brotherhood. This was done by the majority votes of the ignorant peasants in the rural areas, and against the wishes of practically anyone who could be classed as educated, literate, liberal, or with an understanding of rule of law, or role of commerce and legal rights in a modern society. Ie: the traditional appeal to the ignorant to grab control of the ‘means of production’ and ‘distribute it more fairly’ — which always leads to the same results of poverty and persecution whether you call it a Fascist state (Nazi Germany) Communist state (People’s Republic), Theocratic state (Muslim republic, Hindu republic, North Korea), or just a kleptocracy.
Naturally the Western journalists believe the Muslim Brotherhood should be left to develop its ‘democratic’ course.
The inevitable result of letting the Muslim Brotherhood rewrite the constitution and entrench their powers while introducing a Muslim republic with proper Sharia laws, would be a particularly nasty form of dictatorship. Like Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia, future votes would have been ‘controlled’ and eventually pointless. So the intervention of the military to throw them out and try and redo the democratic project was necessary, and possibly the only (very slim) hope of making it work. However, like Fiji, it may be only the start of many interventions to stop backsliding, until the military and people give up in disgust and settle down to exactly the sort of dictatorship which, more or less, kept things together and slowly moving forward under their previous dictators.
December 24, 2013
It may sound rather cynical, but it does seem to capture the essential elements:
Yesterday, as the world cheered the release of two members of the punk band Pussy Riot from prison in Russia, 450 members of the Muslim Brotherhood went on hunger strike in jails in Egypt. These political prisoners, whose ‘crimes’ include supporting deposed President Mohamed Morsi and taking part in protests calling for his reinstatement, have received rather less global sympathy than Pussy Riot. Even when, last month, 14 women and seven girls were sentenced to 11 years’ imprisonment in Egypt for taking part in an unauthorised pro-Morsi protest, still there was little global outrage. The women and girls (whose punishment has since been reduced to a one-year suspended sentence) were not emblazoned on trendy Westerners’ t-shirts; Madonna didn’t demand their release; Amnesty didn’t pump vast amounts of its resources into calling for their sentences to be squashed, as it has done with Pussy Riot, who have been its main campaigning priority over the past year.
So what does it take for political prisoners to become a cause célèbre among influential Westerners? How can political prisoners overseas win the attention and flattery of human-rights groups, celebs and the concerned commentariat? Here’s an invaluable guide for any locked-up man or woman of conscience who craves the support of human-rights activists.
August 20, 2013
B.K. Marcus on what schoolchildren don’t learn about the famous New York city landmark:
Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi wanted wealth and world renown for building a celebrated colossus, and he was willing to shop the idea around — even to the era’s most illiberal customers.
His first pitch for a giant, torch-bearing statue was to the Ottoman viceroy of Egypt, which was, at the time, the single greatest commercial conduit for the international slave trade.
The statue that now stands in New York Harbor is officially called “Liberty Enlightening the World” (La Liberté éclairant le monde). The statue in Egypt was to be called “Egypt Enlightening the World” or, more awkwardly, “Progress Carrying the Light to Asia.”
Failing to close the deal in Egypt, Bartholdi repackaged it for America.
When this bit of backstory reached the American public, Bartholdi denied that one project had anything to do with the other, but the similarity in designs is unmistakable.
Egypt was a vassal state of an authoritarian empire and the gateway for the colossal African slave trade into Asia — whereas the fundraising for the Statue of Liberty proposed a monument not merely to liberty but to the recent abolition of American slavery. (Picture the broken chains at the Statue of Liberty’s feet.)
The original statue was to be an Egyptian woman — a fellah, or native peasant — draped in a burqa, one outstretched arm holding a torch to guide the ships on the great waterway over which she would stand.
Bartholdi had wanted to place his piece at the northern entrance to the Suez Canal in Port Said because the canal represented French greatness in general and engineering greatness more specifically. His statue was to be a synthesis of French art and French engineering, as well as a political symbol of the progress that France offered the East.
The canal was indeed a great engineering accomplishment and a giant step forward for world trade and greater wealth and comfort for everyone — including the toiling masses. But it was built on the back of slave labor, a 10-year corvée that forced Egyptian peasants to do the digging. Thousands died.
August 15, 2013
Brendan O’Neill says that we should not be surprised by the bloody turn of events in Egypt … after all, we collectively acted as enablers:
There is ‘world outcry’ over the behaviour of the Egyptian security forces yesterday, when at least 525 supporters of the deposed Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi were massacred. The killings were ‘excessive’, says Amnesty, in a bid to bag the prize for understatement of the year; ‘brutal’, say various handwringing newspaper editorials; ‘too much’, complain Western politicians.
Such belated expressions of synthetic sorrow are not only too little, too late (hundreds of Egyptians have already been massacred by the military regime that swept Morsi from power); they are also extraordinarily blinkered. To focus on the actions of the security forces alone, on what they did with their trigger fingers yesterday, is to miss the bigger picture; it is to overlook the question of where the military regime got the moral authority to clamp down on its critics so violently in the name of preserving its undemocratic grip on power. It got it from the West, including from so-called Western liberals and human-rights activists. The moral ammunition for yesterday’s massacres was provided by the very politicians and campaigners now crying crocodile tears over the sight of hundreds of dead Egyptians.
The fact that General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the head of the Egyptian armed forces who swept Morsi from power on 3 July, feels he has free rein to preserve his coup-won rule against all-comers isn’t surprising. After all, his undemocratic regime has received the blessing of various high-ranking Western officials, even after it carried out massacres of protesters campaigning for the reinstatement of Morsi, who was elected with 52 per cent of the vote in 2012.
Baroness Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s chief of foreign affairs, who, like al-Sisi, is unelected, visited Egypt at the end of July. She met with al-Sisi and his handpicked, unelected president, Adly Mansour. She called on this junta disguised as a transitional power to start a ‘journey [towards] a stable, prosperous and democratic Egypt’. This was after it had massacred hundreds of protesters, placed various politicians and activists in prison, and reinstated the Mubarak-era secret police to wage a ‘war on terror’ against MB supporters. For Ashton to visit al-Sisi and talk about democracy in the aftermath of such authoritarian clampdowns was implicitly to confer authority on the coup that brought him to power and on his brutal rule and actions.
Meanwhile, the US has refused to call the military’s sweeping aside of Morsi a coup. The Democratic secretary of state, John Kerry, has gone further and congratulated al-Sisi’s regime for ‘restoring democracy’. Kerry said the military’s assumption of power was an attempt to avoid ‘descendance into chaos and violence’ under Morsi, and its appointment of civilians in the top political jobs was a clear sign that it was devoted to ‘restoring democracy’. He said this on 2 August. After hundreds of Morsi supporters had already been massacred. If al-Sisi’s forces believe that killing protesters demanding the reinstatement of a democratically elected prime minister is itself a democratic act, a necessary and even good thing, it isn’t hard to see where they got the idea from.
July 9, 2013
Greg Weiner looks at the full-blown Narcissistic Policy Disorder of Senator John McCain:
The recently published fifth edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual contains no diagnosis for Narcissistic Polity Disorder — the book’s scope being confined to the personality disorder of a similar name — but should the editors ever wish to expand into political science, they will find an excellent case study in the interview Senator John McCain gave on CBS’ Face the Nation last Sunday. It turns out the Egyptian coup, which gave all signs of being a conflict among Egyptians about Egypt, was in fact about — well, us.
[. . .]
Sectarian violence in the Middle East, an ancient and evidently incurable phenomenon, an American failure? That’s one powerful reflection staring back from the water. It is also a powerful fantasy, with roots in the same place — and the metaphor is separated from reality by only the narrowest of margins — as narcissistic personality disorder, one of whose hallmarks is the proclivity to interpret foreign events in terms of oneself. Any event, anywhere, anytime becomes a test of American leadership: He who does what America wished he had not done had no autonomous motives; he meant to stick a thumb in the American eye.
Thus McCain’s understanding of leadership and its breathtaking condescension — in, ironically, the name of the neoconservative project of spreading freedom. Note that within that model — someone is going to lead and it is therefore best for it to be a, make that the, righteous nation — little room is left for the very thing McCain claims he wants to promote: nations actually making choices about their own futures from within. In the present case, Egyptians are fighting about Egypt; the real issue, according to McCain, must be what the United States had to say, or failed to say, about it. The generals could not possibly have been motivated by (a) different aspirations for Egypt, (b) venality, (c) power or (d) some combination of the above: We must understand their motives for the coup in terms of whether they complied with our request that they “not do that.”
July 4, 2013
Daniel Pipes sees joy in the aftermath of Morsi’s removal from power, but also worry. Lots of worry:
The overthrow of Mohamed Morsi in Egypt delights and worries me.
Delight is easy to explain. What appears to have been the largest political demonstration in history uprooted the arrogant Islamists of Egypt who ruled with near-total disregard for anything other than consolidating their own power. Islamism, the drive to apply a medieval Islamic law and the only vibrant radical utopian movement in the world today, experienced an unprecedented repudiation. Egyptians showed an inspiring spirit.
If it took 18 days to overthrow Husni Mubarak in 2011, just four were needed to overthrow Morsi this past week. The number of deaths commensurately went down from about 850 to 40. Western governments (notably the Obama administration) thinking they had sided with history by helping the Muslim Brotherhood regime found themselves appropriately embarrassed.
My worry is more complex. The historical record shows that the thrall of radical utopianism endures until calamity sets in. On paper, fascism and communism sound appealing; only the realities of Hitler and Stalin discredited and marginalized these movements.
In the case of Islamism, this same process has already begun; indeed, the revulsion started with much less destruction wrought than in the prior two cases (Islamism not yet having killed tens of millions) and with greater speed (years, not decades). Recent weeks have seen three rejections of Islamist rule in a row, what with the Gezi Park-inspired demonstrations across Turkey, a resounding victory by the least-hardline Islamist in the Iranian elections on June 14, and now the unprecedentedly massive refutation of the Muslim Brotherhood in public squares along the Nile River.
But I fear that the quick military removal of the Muslim Brotherhood government will exonerate Islamists.
July 1, 2013
In the Guardian, Patrick Kingsley reports on the latest troubles in Cairo:
The headquarters of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood have been burned and ransacked following an all-night siege — one day after millions protested on Egypt’s streets calling for President Mohamed Morsi’s resignation.
In an episode reminiscent of the sacking of Hosni Mubarak’s political headquarters during Egypt’s 2011 uprising, around 50 anti-Brotherhood protesters spent the night attacking the compound — situated on a rocky, isolated outcrop in east Cairo — with molotov cocktails, causing a series of small fires and explosions.
With police nowhere to be seen, Brotherhood cadres returned fire, killing at least four, and injuring at least 80 — according to medics at the scene.
Both sides told the Guardian that the other had started the battle, which began at around 7pm on Sunday. It was not possible to verify either claim.
At roughly 7am, after 12 hours of fighting, Brotherhood reinforcements arrived — possibly, bystanders said, because one of the fires had grown too big, and those inside now feared being smoked out. The reinforcements covered their colleagues’ exit with live fire — the Guardian later saw bullets being plucked from the wall. Bystanders said that some Brotherhood members were injured and handed to the authorities during the blaze.
The Egyptian army has given parties 48 hours to resolve political crisis, or it will 'take responsibility'
— BBC Breaking News (@BBCBreaking) July 1, 2013
June 19, 2013
History Today linked to an article in their archives from 1975 from Pamela Vandyke Price discussing the ancient provenance of Vermouth:
When the great vermouth establishments refer to their product as ‘the oldest form of wine in the world’, they are not exaggerating. If we could travel in time, we might find many of the wines praised in antiquity to be harsh, sour and coarse to our palates, but the ‘aromatized wine’ that we know as vermouth would then have existed and, even if we drank it for medicinal or preventive reasons rather than for enjoyment, we could recognise it and relate it to the vermouths of today.
Vermouth can be, and often is, made wherever wine is made. The ancient Egyptians used both wine and beer, plus juniper, frankincense, celery, lotus leaves and honey, in the treatment of certain ailments; and it is by a method of infusion, maceration, distillation, or two or all three of these processes that, essentially, vermouth is made today. In Book IV of the Odyssey, Helen throws a drug given to her by an Egyptian lady into the bowl in which the wine is to be mixed and diluted before dinner; this ‘had the power of robbing grief and anger of their sting and banishing all painful memories’ — an efficacious aperitif, assuring good digestion. At the end of the third millennium B.C. what is perhaps the first written doctor’s prescription is recorded in cuneiform script on a tablet from the Sumerian city of Nippur — a physician notes that certain powders should be infused with a type of wine.
[. . .]
Other families in the drink business were quick to see the possibilities for vermouth, setting up in Turin, Marseilles and Sete (again in proximity to mountain herbs and a quantity of wine), and in Chambray. Many of them are still family concerns, even though they are great empires of the drink business. Martini & Rossi, who were founded about 1840, replaced a much older concern making vermouths and liqueurs at Pessione, near Turin (the head of that firm was the grandfather of Giovanni Angelli, founder of Fiat); the superb museum now established alongside the Pessione installations is a necessary detour for anyone interested in the history of wine from the earliest times.
The Cinzano family began in the drink business in the sixteenth century, and in 1757 the brothers Carlo Stefano and Giovanni Giacomo were invested as Master Distillers in Turin; today their business is gigantic, including, among other things, the Florio concern at Marsala, (itself including the former cantinas of Ingham and Woodhouse). Louis Noilly, in business at the beginning of the nineteenth century in Lyons, set up in the vermouth trade with his son-in-law, Claudius Prat and they enjoyed so much success that by 1843 they moved their headquarters to Marseilles. Madame Josephine Prat, who ran the business after the deaths of the two founders, was succeeded by her two children; and her granddaughter, Vicomtesse Vigier, who entered the firm before 1939, directed it until 1970 when she died, over a hundred years old.
It seems a little odd that, with so many modifications of wine-making and changes in the tastes of drinkers, aromatized wine should still be in demand. But, in fact, it is increasingly so. Whenever people order a straight vermouth they are ordering the oldest wine in the world.
February 19, 2013
BBC News looks at the soon-to-be-launched Triple-E container ships:
What is blue, a quarter of a mile long, and taller than London’s Olympic stadium?
The answer — this year’s new class of container ship, the Triple E. When it goes into service this June, it will be the largest vessel ploughing the sea.
Each will contain as much steel as eight Eiffel Towers and have a capacity equivalent to 18,000 20-foot containers (TEU).
If those containers were placed in Times Square in New York, they would rise above billboards, streetlights and some buildings.
Or, to put it another way, they would fill more than 30 trains, each a mile long and stacked two containers high. Inside those containers, you could fit 36,000 cars or 863 million tins of baked beans.
The Triple E will not be the largest ship ever built. That accolade goes to an “ultra-large crude carrier” (ULCC) built in the 1970s, but all supertankers more than 400m (440 yards) long were scrapped years ago, some after less than a decade of service. Only a couple of shorter ULCCs are still in use. But giant container ships are still being built in large numbers — and they are still growing.
It’s 25 years since the biggest became too wide for the Panama Canal. These first “post-Panamax” ships, carrying 4,300 TEU, had roughly quarter of the capacity of the current record holder — the 16,020 TEU Marco Polo, launched in November by CMA CGM.
In the shipping industry there is already talk of a class of ship that would run aground in the Suez canal, but would just pass through another bottleneck of international trade — the Strait of Malacca, between Malaysia and Indonesia. The “Malaccamax” would carry 30,000 containers.
September 26, 2012
Strategy Page has an article about the history of the Copts in Egypt after the Muslim take over:
An ugly and ancient aspect of Islamic culture recently triggered violent demonstrations throughout the world. The cause was a low-budget film (“The Innocence of Moslems”) made by an Egyptian-American Coptic Christian. A minority of Moslems have always been particularly sensitive about their religion and how it should be practiced. These conservatives have gone by many names over the centuries. The most common tags these days are Salafists and Wahhabis. These fanatic minorities have exercised an influence on Islamic culture far larger than their numbers (usually less than 10-20 percent) would suggest.
[. . .]
This brings us back to “The Innocence of Moslems” and why it was created by an Egyptian Christian who had fled his homeland. He’s one of many, actually. Some 1,500 years ago most Egyptians were Christians, nearly all of them belonging to the local Coptic sects. Then the Moslems invaded in the 7th century and used threats and financial incentives to encourage conversion to Islam. After three centuries of this, Moslems were the majority. Ever since, Egyptian Moslems have sought, often with violence, to convert the remaining Egyptian Christians (currently about ten percent of the population). Some converted, but increasingly over the last century, Copts have simply fled the country. Those who left had bitter, and ancient, memories of Moslem persecution. That apparently led to making the “The Innocence of Moslems” (allegedly financed by Copts in Egypt).
In response the Egyptian government issued arrest warrants for seven Copts (including the man believed behind the film) and an American clergyman noted for his anti-Moslem attitudes. All eight are accused of having something to do with the film. This is a largely symbolic gesture, as all those being sought by the police are outside the country. Copts living outside Egypt frequently say unkind things about Egypt and Islam, but these comments are usually ignored inside Egypt. Meanwhile, a senior Pakistani government official has offered $100,000 of his own money for whoever kills the Egyptian-American man responsible for the film.
Islamic terrorism often gets explained away as being a reaction to Western imperialism, or colonialism or simply cultural differences. No one, especially in the Islamic world, wants to admit that the cause of it all is religious fanatics who would rather appear righteous than be righteous.
September 17, 2012
The context here is the various arms of the US government scrambling to condemn the alleged maker of the alleged film Innocence of Muslims. Eugene Volokh explains that this is actually inviting further demands for “satisfaction” on the part of the offended:
In recent days, I’ve heard various people calling for punishing the maker of Innocence of Muslims, and more broadly for suppressing such speech. During the Terry Jones planned Koran-burning controversy, I heard similar calls. Such expression leads to the deaths of people, including Americans. It worsens our relations with important foreign countries. It’s intended to stir up trouble. And it’s hardly high art, or thoughtful political arguments. It’s not like it’s Satanic Verses, or even South Park or Life of Brian. Why not shut it down, and punish those who engage in it (of course, while keeping Satanic Verses and the like protected)?
I think there are many reasons to resist such calls, but in this post I want to focus on one: I think such suppression would likely lead to more riots and more deaths, not less. Here’s why.
Behavior that gets rewarded, gets repeated. (Relatedly, “once you have paid him the Dane-geld, you never get rid of the Dane.”) Say that the murders in Libya lead us to pass a law banning some kinds of speech that Muslims find offensive or blasphemous, or reinterpreting our First Amendment rules to make it possible to punish such speech under some existing law.
What then will extremist Muslims see? They killed several Americans (maybe itself a plus from their view). In exchange, they’ve gotten America to submit to their will. And on top of that, they’ve gotten back at blasphemers, and deter future blasphemy. A triple victory.
Would this (a) satisfy them that now America is trying to prevent blasphemy, so there’s no reason to kill over the next offensive incident, or (b) make them want more such victories? My money would be on (b).
September 12, 2012
Tim Cavanaugh on the real as opposed to claimed reason for the attacks on American diplomats in Egypt and Libya:
Mohamed al-Zawahiri, brother of al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri, says he called a “peaceful protest” in Cairo as part of the 9/11 anniversary attacks on U.S. embassies that left the U.S. ambassador to Libya dead and the U.S. embassy in Egypt in shambles.
The putative cause of the attack in Cairo was anger over a satirical movie depicting the founder of Islam’s life. The attacks in the adjacent North African countries, both of which last year saw secular autocrats toppled, came on a day commemorating the Zawahiri family’s direct role in coordinated terror attacks that killed more than 3,000 people from more than 60 nations.
[. . .]
But there is no real point in rebutting Zawahiri’s stated claims about a movie. I’m not even sure the movie Innocence of Muslims exists, given that producer Sam Bacile told the Wall Street Journal it had a budget of $5 million, and that doesn’t match up with the production value in Bacile’s trailer. (Bacile’s “100 Jewish donors” seem to be the real victims here.)
The purpose of the attacks in Egypt and Libya was for the Sunni leadership to show it can unleash mob attacks against American diplomatic assets. (There may be some historical exceptions, but it’s more or less axiomatic than mob attacks cannot happen without government approval.) That point has been received by everybody except U.S. State Department employees.
June 27, 2012
Broadly speaking, wealth can be accumulated in two distinctly different ways. It can be earned through hard work, innovation, and competition, or it can be extracted from the public by use of coercive methods, corruption, and misappropriation:
Whatever the true extent of the Mubarak family fortune, it stands in stark contrast to the lot of most Egyptians. Gross domestic product per capita in Egypt is a mere $2,500. In western Europe and North America GDP per capita is about $40,000, yet the capacities of Egypt’s intellectual and entrepreneurial elite are the rival of any state in the world.
The real damage imposed by men such as Mr Mubarak is not the money they might have stolen. The tragedy is that the system that enables them to steal it destroys opportunities for others to generate wealth — not only for themselves but for the whole population.
The price of requiring a potential Mark Zuckerberg or Mr Gates to pay a $100 bribe to each of 10 officials before he can establish his new business is not the $1,000 creamed off by corrupt bureaucrats. It is the far greater one of lost businesses that never came into being because the licensing process that makes such corruption possible was not navigated. In the meantime, people who might be successful entrepreneurs choose instead to seek political power. If business is endlessly frustrating and politics endlessly rewarding, the career choice for able and enterprising people is obvious.
Institutions are the key influence on economic prosperity — West Germany did not outperform East Germany because of its excellent monetary policies. And, as Daron Acemoglou and James Robinson point out in their book, Why Nations Fail, a critical feature of successful economic institutions is that they limit the scope for what these authors call “extractive activity” — others have described it as predation or rent-seeking — which appropriates the wealth created by other people.