Thursday, December 14, 2006

Was Allende a sheep in sheep's clothing?

In the comments section to an earlier post Dave has described Allende as essentially similar to Clement Attlee. By way of rebuttal I offer this Time magazine reportage from a year before the coup that a friend pointed me to; things then got a lot worse (there is more after the link):

After almost two years in power —the anniversary will be on Nov. 3 —Allende presides over an increasingly angry country that is sinking ever deeper into economic quicksand. Everything from beef to butter and matches to auto parts is in short supply. Inflation has spiraled 63.5% during the past eight months; in August alone, the inflation rate was 22.7%, and the price of food soared an estimated 60%. The reason: in an effort to buy political support, the government increased the money supply by 115% last year, and is doing the same in 1972. The black-market rate for escudos has now reached 300 to the dollar, more than six times the official rate. Chile's foreign exchange reserves have been used up, and its nationalized copper mines have been cut off from traditional lines of international bank credit. The economy limps along through deficit financing and aid from Communist countries.

Allende blames the U.S. for many of Chile's problems, particularly the drying up of Santiago's credit lines. But most international banks consider Chile a poor risk. To help keep its economy afloat, Chile has deferred payment on its foreign debt of some $2.5 billion, including more than $1 billion to the U.S.

At the same time Chileans have been hit by an inflation of violence. A carabinero (national policeman) was killed in a clash between pro-and anti-Allende forces in Conception in August, and a 17-year-old student died when a tear-gas grenade exploded in his face during a Santiago street brawl last month. As the violence increases, political parties have begun to organize for street warfare. The Communist Party has set up "self-defense committees" throughout Santiago. The Socialists talk of establishing "antifascist brigades." On the other side, a youthful group of extreme rightists called Patria y Libertad talks vaguely of an organization of "shock troops" to combat leftists.

Pinochet did truly awful things but, if we are to choose between bad and worse, between him and Allende Pinochet was clearly the better option. We do, in the developed West, have the luxury of refusing to choose either tyrant but this is not an option that was open to Chile.

Another very interesting point, somewhat related, is made by Alykhan about the developed world functioning as a testing ground for capitalist policies first in Chile (where Reagan and Thatcher followed) and now, perhaps, in Eastern Europe with the flat tax. It makes some sense given these countries have less to lose, more to gain and fewer long entrenched institutions. It also fits with the pattern of the debate over the flat tax here with people citing the Eastern European example so frequently in support of the flat tax.

Leaving LSE

Yesterday I had the presentation ceremony for my Master's and it felt like quite a composed goodbye to an institution I was a part of for four years. The LSE has changed me a lot and broadened my perspective massively. However, I think it now probably is time to move on, to find a new institutional home which can hopefully keep me as engaged as I was at LSE (not always with my studies) while perhaps providing a more professional environment which I have often thrived in.

Two interesting things to note from the ceremony. First, Robert Mundell received an honorary doctorate from the LSE on the grounds of his achievements in economics (a Nobel Prize and more) and his connection to the school (he wrote his thesis at the LSE). During the speech Danny Quah mentioned Mundell's appearances on Letterman. So far this is the only one I can dig up:

Plus this, not video but the same basic idea:

"If you missed last night's Late Show with David Letterman, you missed Robert A. Mundell, 1999 Nobel Prize Winner in Economics, read "Top Ten Ways My Life Has Changed Since Winning The Nobel Prize":

Top Ten Ways My Life Has Changed Since Winning The Nobel Prize

10. Can end almost any argument by asking, "And did you ever win a Nobel Prize?"

9. Whenever I bring it to Applebee's restaurant, I get a free plate of riblets heading my way

8. When I enter a room, I shout, "Nobel Prize winner in the hizzouse!"

7. At most 7-11s, I can get service even if I choose not to wear shoes or a shirt

6. Instead of saying, "Kiss my ass" to guys who cut me off in traffic, I now say, "Kiss my Nobel Prize-winning ass"

5. I've been banned from casinos in seven states

4. When I call K-Rock to request Aerosmith, they play Aerosmith

3. Any meaningless crap I say, the next day it's in the Wall Street Journal

2. Another Friday, another P. Diddy party

1. In Stockholm, I get more tail than Frank Sinatra"

Finally, on a slightly more serious note, my uncle was at the graduation ceremony and wasn't impressed by Howard Davies' plea to screw with league tables:

"Should any market surveyor approach you to ask your salary, please put down the highest figure you can bring yourself to put, he told them. No-one will ever check.

'I thought the LSE was a hotbed for radical socialist thought,' I said to my right-wing nephew after the show. I'd spent all these years fearing he was misplaced.

'What happened?'

'That all went out with the sixties,' he replied.

Before his current job , Howard Davies was head of the Financial Services Agency, the UK's single financial regulator. Previously he was Deputy Governor of the Bank of England after three years as Director General of the Confederation of British Industry. 1987 to 1992 saw him as Controller of the Audit Commission. His whole official role has been one of enforcing financial probity. His rallying call to his graduating students is that no-one will even check, go out and lie on behalf of your School, because the amount you earn is what it's all about. In this week of 8.8 billion pounds of bonuses paid in the city, maybe he's simply jealous - and I suppose that in advocating lying he was at least being honest about his true values - but how sad, pitiful and desperate it all truly is."

I'm afraid Martin has gotten a little overanxious about the particular quote. Davies spent some time earlier describing how little he thought of league tables and, more generally, those who think of education primarily as a contributor to economic welfare rather than the search for truth. The joke was intended to be a snipe at league tables and how easily they can be manipulated.

On the more general theme of the death of radicalism at the LSE I think it is important to note the second half of the "It went out with the 60s" answer, which Martin doesn't quote, which was that the influx of international students killed it. Having over half the students be from outside the UK with far less interest in UK domestic politics and high, international, fees to justify in their post university earning power made a return to the radical protest movement of the sixties impossible.

Note that this means that the LSE has traded radicalism for cosmopolitanism. This is, perhaps, a trade Martin might find rather more noble than exchanging radicalism for City bonuses.

Request for Recommendations

The reason I'm posting so little, as mentioned before, is that I'm getting ready to leave for Canada and am getting my affairs in order before leaving.

To prepare for my trip I went looking for books in the big Piccadilly Waterstone's (my local bookstore in one of the bizarre consequences of living where I do) and couldn't find the books I was looking for (the "American Ceaser" biography of Douglass MacArthur and Fritz Stern's "Einstein's German World). I picked up Jasper Becker's book on North Korea as his work on China is so utterly definitive but could use some more ideas, perhaps a novel or some more political history/thinking (nothing too dry before anyone gets academic on me).

I have four flights of upwards of five hours so will need more to read and none of the books I have in my "waiting to be read" list seem suitable. As I am leaving on Saturday recommendations before then would be greatly appreciated.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Washington Post on Pinochet

The Washington Post makes the case I was trying to make on Pinochet with admirable clarity. Both the horror of his regime and its achievements are properly accounted for and the comparison with Castro is an important one.

By way of contrast, Fidel Castro -- Mr. Pinochet's nemesis and a hero to many in Latin America and beyond -- will leave behind an economically ruined and freedomless country with his approaching death. Mr. Castro also killed and exiled thousands. But even when it became obvious that his communist economic system had impoverished his country, he refused to abandon that system: He spent the last years of his rule reversing a partial liberalization. To the end he also imprisoned or persecuted anyone who suggested Cubans could benefit from freedom of speech or the right to vote.

Monday, December 11, 2006

On Pinochet

By far the best and most balanced obituary of Pinochet was in the Telegraph.

I think that Pinochet is interesting because he is a rare right wing example of a phenomenon the left faces quite rarely; a man putting foward very satisfying politics via the mechanism of killing many of his own people by extra legal means. While right wing leaders have backed tyrants in foreign countries they rarely see them as much more than least bad options in the face of other tyrants who combine their tyranny with some infringement of our own national interests.

By comparison, Pinochet certainly left a great many good things behind him. A free market economy which delivered the most successful development in Latin America, a democratic country as he was one of the few to give up power peacefully following a narrow defeat in a plebiscite and his foreign policy which was of great importance to the United Kingdom's interests in particular. Under Allende the country was an utter mess and had little prospect of the improvement which it saw under Pinochet.

Equally, many of those he killed almost certainly did have little respect for Chilean democracy themselves and were, in the sense he described it, at war with him. However, he did kill them and there were, certainly, many killed merely guilty of speaking the truth about the ugliness of his regime. Also, although this is less serious, he did fall prey to the corrupting influence of such great power.

This brings questions of utilitarianism versus liberalism into focus. The greatest happiness of the greatest number was certainly well served by Pinochet yet for this to happen some people did have to suffer and die and democracy was delayed. Ironically, although they won't admit it and will cling to some foolish pretence that Pinochet didn't make the lives of most Chileans far better, this is far more of a problem for the left who are rather more attached to utilitarianism. As for the right the answer should be simple: if faced between the choice of him or a left wing tyrant he would have been the better choice, he was an evil man who did truly evil things but he left Chile in a better condition than it was when he first ascended to power. There seems no need to simplify beyond this.