Book Reviews

07 julho, 2008

196) Origens da divisao do Libano: trajetoria familiar de Amin Maalouf

Ancestral Journeys
The New York Times Book Review, July 6, 2008

By Amin Maalouf.
Translated by Catherine Temerson.
404 pp. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. $26.

The attributes of Arab identity have proved quite a challenge for Americans in the last decade. Throughout the 20th century most United States citizens went along quite happily without expending a thought to, say, the difference between Sunni and Shiite Muslims. This was of a piece with a general climate of nonchalance about all things foreign. In a speech in Brasilia in 1982, Ronald Reagan infamously offered a toast to “the people of Bolivia,” a gaffe that probably did him more good than harm on his home turf. Since 9/11, the days of willful ignorance about the Arab world are gone forever, or at least there is a pretense they are. Now, just when it looked as if more or less everyone, politicians included, was close to getting the Sunni-Shiite thing down, along comes Amin Maalouf with his lovely, complex memoir, “Origins,” to remind us that Arab identity is as fluid, unsettled and ever-changing as the Mediterranean Sea where it kisses the shores of Lebanon, his country of origin, and France, where he has lived for the last 30 years.

Maalouf is a writer of historical fiction (his novel “The Rock of Tanios” won the 1993 Prix Goncourt), a sometime opera librettist and a quirky historian — in “The Crusades Through Arab Eyes,” he brilliantly reconstituted a semi-documentary narrative from “the other side.” He is also a polemicist on behalf of the mongrel life. His 1998 book “Les Identités Meurtrières” (translated into English two years later as “In the Name of Identity: Violence and the Need to Belong”), about the vagaries of identity and the dangers in cleaving too hard to the national model, took on a trenchant identity of its own after 9/11. Here was the clear, calm, cogent and persuasive voice from the Arab world that it seemed everyone in the West had been waiting for. In that book, Maalouf argued, like Primo Levi in “The Periodic Table,” for the salience of marginalized groups, “frontier dwellers,” to the societies they inhabit. By paying attention to the mix and match of minority life, majorities smugly entrenched in fixed identities might be encouraged to get a grip on their own, almost certainly diverse, selves. The dangers of not doing so are clear. “Those who cannot accept their own diversity may be among the most virulent of those prepared to kill for the sake of identity, attacking those who embody that part of themselves which they would like to see forgotten,” he wrote. In “Origins,” Maalouf puts theory into practice by charting the wayward journey of his own family.

The Maalouf family on the cusp and into the first decades of the 20th century is a challenging and charming blend of Catholics, Protestants, open thinkers and Freemasons, and sometimes a satisfyingly incongruent combination of two or more of these affiliations. There is even a Mormon branch in Utah. But the family’s allegiance is first and foremost to the mountain villages of Lebanon, and from that unrolls a variety of commitments to place, family, religion, region, state, language, business, poetry and high thought. The Maaloufs are also somewhat taken with the idea of exile as an experience to broaden the mind rather than a loss of home to be endlessly lamented.

In “Origins,” Maalouf focuses mainly on his grandfather Botros, a schoolteacher who, having failed in business (he wanted to grow tobacco in the Bekaa plain), lives instead “between notebooks and inkwells”; and on his more successfully entrepreneurial great uncle Gebrayel (his grandfather’s younger brother), who left Lebanon in late 1895 for the United States and three years later for Cuba. They are a study in contrasts. Botros, a dandified intellectual determined to bring enlightenment to his corner of the mountains, scandalously refuses to have his children baptized, sets up a “Universal School” and roams his village bareheaded in a suit and cape, while Gebrayel establishes a successful retail business in Havana, only to die there under tragic circumstances.

Amin Maalouf’s forebears include a Melkite priest, Theodoros, and a tragic hunger artist, Botros’s unnamed nephew, who starves himself to death because his father will not let him study literature. The memoir is also flecked with delicious family anecdotes: a young aunt unwinds her tresses on her way to bed when her excited father calls out from the kitchen where negotiations have been in progress, “Zalfa, do up your hair again; we’ve married you off!”

Why look back? William Blake strongly advised driving your cart and your plough over the bones of the dead, and Maalouf is frequently tempted by the idea as he travels from his home in Paris to fill the gaps in his ancestors’ stories. In Cuba, where he locates his great uncle Gebrayel’s home and discovers newspaper reports of his death, Maalouf often gets that “I should have stayed home and watched sports on TV” feeling, but he persists in his research. The descriptions of his brief sojourn in Havana — frustrations and impasses followed by an unexpected denouement involving a long-lost cousin — are the most gripping and evocative chapters in the memoir. In Cuba, Maalouf feels home but not at home. He drinks local rum, invites the Caribbean breeze to caress his face and ruminates on what might have been if his grandfather Botros and not his great uncle Gebrayel had made his way to Havana. Yet in the end, Maalouf doesn’t only want to illuminate family history or amplify stories barely whispered for a hundred years; instead, he strives to reveal the fecund variety of his own family, of Arab life and history, of history itself. In doing so, he offers a lesson in the value of impermanence and shifting sands. “Barely a hundred years ago, Lebanese Christians readily proclaimed themselves Syrian, Syrians looked to Mecca for a king, Jews in the Holy Land called themselves Palestinian ... and my grandfather Botros liked to think of himself as an Ottoman citizen,” he writes. “None of the present-day Middle Eastern states existed, and even the term ‘Middle East’ hadn’t been invented. The commonly used term was ‘Asian Turkey.’ Since then, scores of people have died for allegedly eternal homelands, and many more will die tomorrow.”

Identity is writ not in stone but on water. All the more absurd, then, when it is used — in a manner increasingly common, especially among our hopeful politicians — as a credential. Am I, for example, suitably qualified to represent the unemployed in contemporary Poland because my grandfather hailed from Piotrokow more than a century ago and never had a job in his life?

In her old age, Amin Maalouf’s grandmother Nazeera knitted him a white winter scarf so long that on chilly Paris nights he has to wrap it around his shoulders “several times so it won’t drag on the floor.” Maalouf wants nothing more than to unwind the long scarf of memory and history, not to make a claim, but in celebration of human dignity, endeavor and “wanderers who have lost their way.” He is one of that small handful of writers, like David Grossman and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who are indispensable to us in our current crisis.

Jonathan Wilson is director of the Center for the Humanities at Tufts University.

195) Construindo o imperio: a expansao dos EUA

Exploring What Lies Beyond Manifest Destiny
The New York Times Book Review, June 26, 2008

HABITS OF EMPIRE: A History of American Expansion
By Walter Nugent
Illustrated. 387 pages. Alfred A. Knopf. $30.

The United States is today the third-largest country in the world, behind only Russia and Canada. More than that, its territory could hardly be richer, more diverse or more advantageously placed on the globe. While much of the land of Russia and Canada is arctic or subarctic, most American territory is in the Temperate Zone. The United States is the only great power with coasts on both the Atlantic and Pacific, placing it effectively at the center of the world.

How this immense and fecund national territory came to be assembled is the story of “Habits of Empire” by Walter Nugent, a professor for many years at Notre Dame and earlier at Indiana University. He divides this history into three phases. The first, which he calls Empire I, takes up most of the book and is concerned with what is now the lower 48 states. While most people remember maps from school and the occasional catchy phrase, like “Fifty-Four Forty or Fight!” and “manifest destiny,” the details are probably hazy at best. And these details are often fascinating and well delineated by Professor Nugent.

The United States acquired much of its present territory by aggressive means, notably what is now the Southwest, when it defeated Mexico in a war and forced it to cede a huge chunk of its almost empty northern reaches (although to be sure America paid Mexico more than it had paid France, in an arm’s-length deal, for the Louisiana Purchase). But United States aggression also failed in some cases, notably Canada. Thomas Jefferson thought that its acquisition would be “a mere matter of marching” and that the Canadians would greet the Americans with open arms. They did not, and the United States was very lucky to get out of the War of 1812 with a burned capital and a draw.

In other cases, like those of Florida and Texas, the land was acquired by the simple expedient of American settlers pouring into largely unsettled areas. Spain, facing incipient revolt in both Mexico and South America, realized that it could not hold Florida anyway and sold it. Mexico, a few years later, tried to hold Texas but, led by a remarkably incompetent general, Santa Anna, lost it at the Battle of San Jacinto, where Santa Anna was captured and his army soundly defeated by Sam Houston and his Texas militia.

By 1853 the continental United States was complete and what Professor Nugent calls Empire II began. Empire I had been acquired with the idea of settlement, which occurred in the American West with astonishing speed. Empire II, however, was not meant for settlement, at least at first. The biggest part of Empire II was Alaska, which became American for much the same reason that Louisiana had about 60 years earlier: a European empire wanted to be rid of it and didn’t want Britain to get it.

The rest of Empire II was added in the late 19th century and, except for the Philippines, consisted mostly of small islands in the Pacific, like Guam, American Samoa and Hawaii. Puerto Rico and, finally, the Virgin Islands, bought from Denmark in 1917, rounded out this overseas empire.

But a major part of Empire II was the control the United States exercised over foreign countries that were nominally independent. American protectorates were established in many countries in the Caribbean basin, with the Marines sent to keep peace (and, of course, safeguard American commercial interests). But with the end of World War I the American taste for foreign empire began to evaporate. By the middle of the 1930s the Marines were out of places like Nicaragua, and the Philippines was self-governing and on its way to independence.

Up to this point “Habits of Empire” is both a readable and valuable work in American history. Unfortunately the author felt compelled to add a postscript, “The Global Empire,” on the United States in the post-World War II world. He calls this phase of American history Empire III, and his depiction of it is somewhere between highly tendentious and simply, well, silly.

For one thing, he covers 63 years of enormous global change in a mere 12 pages, which doesn’t leave much room for explaining extremely complex events or providing context. For instance, Professor Nugent writes, quoting with obvious approval another historian (Robert Kagan), that globalization is simply “ ‘a process whereby American-style market economics engulfed nearly the entire world’ in a manner similar to how white Americans put Indians’ land ‘to better use’ in the 1800s.” To describe globalization as nothing more than American economic imperialism is ludicrous. He might at least have noted that globalization has enormously enriched the entire world, not just the United States.

For another, he is often wrong on his facts. He writes that “there was no significant peace dividend” after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of communism, and that there were no military base closings. In fact the total Department of Defense budget, in constant dollars, fell by more than 30 percent between 1989 and 1998, and there have been five rounds of base closings, enacted despite considerable political pain.

In short, he buys completely into the visceral anti-Americanism, seeing American self-aggrandizing imperialism everywhere while scarcely noting that the free world was engaged in a decades-long, worldwide struggle against a ruthless tyranny.

In all, “Habits of Empire” is an excellent book as long as one ignores the historical claptrap of the postscript, which is an embarrassment to the author and publisher and an insult to the reader.

John Steele Gordon is the author of “An Empire of Wealth: The Epic History of American Economic Power” (HarperCollins, 2004).

02 julho, 2008

194) Capitalism and Freedom, Milton Friedman

Capitalism and Freedom
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Capitalism and Freedom
Milton Friedman
Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962, p. 202
ISBN ISBN 0-226-26421-1 (Fortieth anniversary edition)

Capitalism and Freedom is a book by Milton Friedman originally published in 1962 which discusses the role of economic capitalism in liberal society. It has sold over 400,000 copies in 18 years[1] and more than half a million since 1962. It has been translated into 18 languages. In accessible, jargon-free language, Friedman makes the case for economic freedom as a precondition for political freedom. He defines liberal in European Enlightenment terms, contrasting with an American usage that he believes has been corrupted since the Great Depression. Many North Americans usually categorized as conservative or libertarian have adopted some of his views. The book finds several realistic places in which a free market can and should be promoted for both philosophical and practical reasons, with several surprising conclusions.[citation needed] Among other concepts, Friedman advocates ending the mandatory licensing of doctors and introducing a system of vouchers for school education.

Capitalism and Freedom is written from the perspective of the United States. It was published nearly two decades after World War II, a time when the Great Depression was still in collective memory and the Cold War had just begun. Under the Kennedy and preceding Eisenhower administrations, federal expenditures were growing at a quick pace in the areas of national defence, social welfare and infrastructure. Both major parties, Democratic and Republican, supported increased spending in different ways. This, as well as the New Deal, was supported by most intellectuals with the justification of Keynesian economics.

Chapter summaries

The introduction lays out the principles of Friedman's archetypal liberal, a man who supports limited and dispersed governmental power. Friedman opts for the continental European, rather than American, definition of the term.

i. The Relation between Economic Freedom and Political Freedom
In this chapter, Friedman promotes economic freedom as both a necessary freedom in itself and also as a vital means for political freedom. He argues that, with the means for production under the auspices of the government, it is nearly impossible for real dissent and exchange of ideas to exist. Additionally, economic freedom is important, since any "bi-laterally voluntary and informed" transaction must benefit both parties to the transaction.

ii. The Role of Government in a Free Society
According to the author, the government of a liberal society should enforce law and order and property rights, as well as take action on certain technical monopolies and diminish negative "neighborhood effects." The government should also have control over money, as has long been recognized in the constitution and society.

iii. The Control of Money
He discusses the evolution of money in America, culminating in the Federal Reserve Act of 1913. Far from acting as a stabilizer, the Federal Reserve failed to act as it should have in several circumstances. Friedman proposes that the Federal Reserve have a consistent rule to increase the money supply by 3-5% annually.

iv. International Financial and Trade Arrangements
This chapter advocates the end of the Bretton Woods system in favor of a floating exchange rate system and the end of all currency controls and trade barriers, even "voluntary" export quotas. Friedman says that this is the only true solution to the balance of trades problem.

v. Fiscal Policy
Friedman argues against the continual government spending justified to "balance the wheel" and help the economy to continue to grow. On the contrary, federal government expenditures make the economy less, not more stable. Friedman uses concrete evidence from his own research, demonstrating that the rise in government expenditures results in a roughly equal rise in GDP, contrasting with the Keynsian multiplier theory. Many reasons for this discrepancy are discussed.

vi. The Role of Government in Education
The policy advocated here is vouchers which students may use for education at a private school of their choice. The author believes that everyone, in a democracy, needs a basic education for citizenship. Though there is underinvestment in human capital (in terms of spending at technical and professional schools), it would be foolish of the government to provide free technical education. The author suggests several solutions, some private, some public, to stop this underinvestment.

vii. Capitalism and Discrimination
In a capitalist society, Friedman argues, it costs money to discriminate, and it is very difficult, given the impersonal nature of market transactions. However, the government should not make fair employment practices laws (eventually embodied in the Civil Rights Act of 1964), as these inhibit the freedom to employ someone based on whatever qualifications the employer wishes to use. For the same reason, right-to-work laws should be abolished.

viii. Monopoly and the Social Responsibility of Business and Labor
Friedman states, there are three alternatives for a monopoly: public monopoly, private monopoly, or public regulation. None of these is desirable or universally preferable. Monopolies come from many sources, but direct and indirect government intervention is the most common, and it should be stopped wherever possible. The doctrine of "social responsibility", that corporations should care about the community and not just profit, is highly subversive to the capitalist system and can only lead towards totalitarianism.

ix. Occupational Licensure
This economist takes a radical stance against all forms of state licensure. The biggest advocates for licenses in an industry are, usually, the people in the industry, wishing to keep out potential competitors. The author defines registration, certification, and licensing, and, in the context of doctors, explains why the case for each one of these is weaker than the previous one. There is no liberal justification for licensing doctors; it results in inferior care and a medical cartel.

x. The Distribution of Income
Friedman examines the progressive income tax, introduced in order to redistribute income to make things more fair, and finds that, in fact, the rich take advantage of numerous loopholes, nullifying the redistributive effects. It would be far more just to have a uniform flat tax with no deductions, which could meet the 1962 tax revenues with a rate only slightly greater than the lowest tax bracket at that time.

xi. Social Welfare Measures
Though well-intentioned, many social welfare measures don't help the poor as much as some think. Friedman focuses on Social Security as a particularly large and unfair system.

xii. Alleviation of Poverty
He advocates a negative income tax to fix the issue, giving everyone a guaranteed minimum income, rather than current measures, which he sees as misguided and inefficient.

xiii. Conclusion
The conclusion to the book centers on how, time and time again, government intervention often has an effect opposite of that intended. Most good things in the United States and the world come from the free market, not the government, and they will continue to do so. The government, despite its good intentions, should stay out of areas where it does not need to be.

The effects of Capitalism and Freedom were great yet varied in the realm of political economics. Some of Friedman's suggestions are being tested and implemented in many places, such as the flat income tax in Slovakia, a floating exchange rate which has almost fully replaced the Bretton Woods system, and school vouchers for Hurricane Katrina evacuees, to cite a few prominent examples. However, many other ideas have scarcely been considered, such as the end of licensing, and the abolition of corporate income tax (in favor of an income tax on the stock holder). Though politicians often claim that they are working towards "free trade," an idea the book supports, no one has considered taking his suggestion of phasing out all tariffs in 10 years. Nevertheless, Friedman popularized many ideas previously unknown to most outside economics. This and other works helped Milton Friedman to become a household name. The Times Literary Supplement called it "one of the most influential books published since the war." However, many of the ideas described in this book are considered controversial or even radical to this day.

Capitalism and Freedom made the Intercollegiate Studies Institute's 50 Best Books of the Twentieth Century and also was placed tenth on the list of the 100 best non-fiction books of the twentieth century compiled by National Review.

1. ^ 1982 edition preface of Capitalism and freedom, p. xi of the 2002 edition
See also: Free to Choose

External links:
* Capitalism and Freedom, 1962
* A Tract for the Times — contemporary review from The Economist, 16 February 1963.

Retrieved from ""
Categories: 1962 books | Capitalist books | Classical liberalism | Economics books |

01 julho, 2008

193) Uma breve história do futuro, Jacques Attali

Sobre o amanhã que nos espera
Economista e autor francês, Jacques Attali faz previsões alarmantes em Uma Breve História do Futuro
Leonardo Trevisan
O Estado de São Paulo, domingo, 29 de junho de 2008, Caderno 2

Jacques Attali:
Uma Breve História do Futuro
Tradução de Renata Cordeiro
Novo Século, 224 págs., R$ 45,90

Investigar o futuro é mania antiga. Aliás, o bicho homem sempre foi muito atormentado pela idéia das previsões. Os métodos para domar esse medo do amanhã, atávico à espécie, são muitos, incluindo sacrifícios humanos, muito utilizados para acalmar os deuses que mandam no que virá. Por outro lado, é curioso, mas nos últimos tempos a prospecção do futuro misturou esse medo com a ansiedade por progresso. As incertezas do amanhã, portanto, só devem assustar os que não se preocupam com os avanços, com as melhorias, principalmente as econômicas.

Jacques Attali, assessor de François Mitterand, ex-presidente do Banco Europeu para a Reconstrução e Desenvolvimento, seguiu esse caminho, o de pensar o futuro pela via da conquista do progresso. Em Uma Breve História do Futuro - Capítulo Especial Sobre o Brasil, publicado pela Novo Século Editora, ele identificou um momento essencial para entender os mecanismos das previsões: por volta de 1300 a.C., depois que os egípcios consolidaram a idéia de império, algumas tribos vindas da Ásia se instalam em ilhas do Mediterrâneo, e, em vez de ficarem fechados em fortalezas pelas exigências da agricultura, micênicos, fenícios e judeus passaram a pensar o tempo todo em mudanças, que chamaram de “progresso”. Para esses, comércio e dinheiro eram suas melhores armas e mares e portos seus verdadeiros terrenos de caça.

Apesar de toda atenção à História, Attali garante que “hoje se decide como será o mundo em 2050”. Ele está convencido de que as forças de mercado dominam o planeta e o que chamou de “marcha triunfante do dinheiro” tem tanto poder que acabará com tudo que pode prejudicá-lo. Transformado em lei única do mundo, o mercado formará na sua visão o “hiperimpério”, em que tudo será privado. Porém, se a humanidade interromper a globalização “pela violência” enfrentará grandes batalhas opondo Estados, grupos religiosos, terroristas e piratas privados. Será o que Attali chamou de “hiperconflito”. Já se a globalização puder ser contida sem ser recusada, se o mercado for circunscrito sem ser abolido, se a democracia for global, ele acredita que o mundo chegará à “hiperdemocracia”, com todas as tecnologias usadas “no rumo da abundância”. Para conhecer qual será o rumo dessa caminhada, se sombria ou apenas feliz, Attali prospecta o futuro partindo de uma certeza: as tribos, que instituíram os primeiros mercados e as primeiras democracias 12 séculos antes de Cristo, formaram depois uma sólida ordem comercial. Para ele, ainda estamos nessa ordem, e sua história e leis serão também as do futuro. O corte cronológico que interessa ao economista francês é o surgimento das primeiras cidades-feira da cristandade no século 9º. Só as crises do próprio mercado, ou guerras, levariam à substituição de um “núcleo” de comércio por outro. Para Attali, desde então, nove “núcleos” se sucederam: Bruges, Veneza, Antuérpia, Gênova, Amsterdã, Londres, Boston, Nova York e, hoje, Los Angeles. Para Attali, o essencial da história dos últimos sete séculos se explica pelas estratégias empregadas pelas potências para tornarem-se “núcleo” dessa ordem comercial.

Cada um desses núcleos acumulou sua especificidade de poder. Veneza tomou o espaço de Bruges, pela posição geográfica privilegiada, para receber a prata que acabara de ser descoberta nas minas alemãs. Quando a prata alemã terminou e a pressão turca aumentou, Antuérpia e depois Gênova substituíram Veneza. Londres, que desde o 16 já lucrava com o algodão, tomará o lugar de Gênova. A origem da riqueza inglesa está nos tratados de livre comércio assinados até com a inimiga França em 1776. Nessa época, a libra já era nova moeda do comércio mundial. A grande recessão de 1870 demole o poder de “núcleo” de Londres. De 1890 a 1929, Boston dará as cartas pela grande explosão das máquinas. Depois da Grande Depressão de 1929, Nova York ocupa o poder de núcleo, na grande vitória da eletricidade. Depois que serviços viraram indústria, Attali cria a expressão “objetos nômades”, os que ajudam as pessoas a “viver em viagem”, o principal deles o computador.

Há novos donos no mundo. A Europa declina e a Ásia volta a subir: entre 1980 e 2006 a parte dos EUA no PIB mundial permanece inalterada em 21%, mas a da Europa cai de 28% para 21%, enquanto a do leste asiático, incluindo China, Japão, Coréia, Taiwan, Hong Kong, passa de 16% para 28%. A questão central para o futuro é: como surgirá a décima cidade-núcleo. Há no horizonte 11 novas potências: China, Índia, Rússia, Japão, Indonésia, Coréia, Austrália, Canadá, República Sul-Africana, Brasil e México. Sobre a China a percepção de que o Partido Comunista chinês será cada vez menos capaz de organizar a vida urbana. Attali faz o vaticino de que o Brasil estará à frente do Japão. Para gerir o tempo como mercadoria duas indústrias devem crescer muito: seguros e entretenimento, uma vez que “divertir-se será proteger-se do presente”. Quanto à operacionalidade do futuro, Attali vê duas perspectivas. Primeiro, uma fase mais sombria em que o capitalismo atingirá sua meta: “Destruirá tudo que não for como ele.” Ele teme a tentação do isolacionismo teocrático nos EUA e a inserção do cristianismo na constituição européia como defesa à expansão islâmica. Porém, depois, ele também considera que a hiperdemocracia poderá triunfar.

É preciso coragem para mexer com o futuro. O que mais assusta nele não são as previsões, mas as convicções que as construíram. A maior delas é a atual mistura entre progresso e felicidade. Aliás, vale lembrar que essa mesma mistura já vitimou as previsões, tanto otimistas como pessimistas, de muita gente.