Calvin Schermerhorn on Bank Bonds, Slavery, and Financial Capitalism in the early 19th Century

In February 1843, entrepreneur Hughes Lavergne to a ferry from New Orleans across the Mississippi River to Algiers point, where he sat in his family’s cemetery and wrote a suicide letter before ending “his financial career by stabbing himself in the heart.”  A state representative and banker by trade, Lavergne helped revolutionize domestic and international banking by “leveraging plantations and bondspersons (slaves)” so that slaveholders could raise capital by allowing them to “access… bank credit that would help [them] buy thousands of enslaved people, hundreds of cotton and sugar plantations, and improvements such as refineries.”

Economist Michael Hudson, among other scholars, view finance capitalism as a threat to democracy and the overall economy itself.  Finance capitalism, according to Hudson, leads to more economic crisis than product oriented capitalism.  He also argues that the financial trend began in the 1970s along with stagflation and supply side economics.  Although finance capitalism might have become more prevalent since the 1970s, it was around a lot longer.  In the early 19th century, for instance, Southern Americans mortgaged their plantations and slaves to procure more land and slaves, thereby expanding slavery in the South West (Louisiana, Alabama, etc.).  The great domestic migration of African slaves from the East coast to the South West, which Edward Baptist discusses in The Half Has Never Been Told, was funded by finance capitalism and the mortgaging of property and slaves.  Just like in the 2008 housing bubble, this early form of finance capitalism also lead to a bubble that also burst, but not before it revolutionized American and international banking.  The story of Hughes Lavergne, as told by (), reveals “the integration of international financial sectors at the heart of ear United States economic development.”

Schermerhorn’s “Bank Bonds and Bondspersons” reveals several important qualities of slavery in relation to the development of America in the early nineteenth century (1920s-1930s).  For instance, he reveals that state’s role in financing and expanding slavery by securing financial institutions.  He also shows the dual status slaves held as both laborers and property, whereby owners could mortgage.  Lavergne’s created a record of mortgages in the state of Louisiana, thereby expanding the state’s overview of its internal financial dynamics.  “Bank Bonds and Bondspersons” also provides insight into early finance capitalism and subsequent bubbles that continue today.

Joshua Rothman’s Flush Times and Fever Dreams: a Story of Capitalism and Slavery in the Age of Jackson (2012), provides a provocative background to the story of Hughes Lavergne and  Consolidated Association, which expands our understanding of these ‘flush times’ in America.  For instance, Rothman writes that “in the early 1830s” America thrived with “technological advances, infrastructural improvements” and expansion into Choctaw and Chickasaw land, leading to the trail of tears.  This opened land that would be settled primarily by cotton producers as the “southwestern frontier (Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana) possessed some of the most fertile soil on the continent for growing cotton.” British demand for textiles was reaching its height as its industrial revolution turned raw goods into textiles.  “Cotton crops brought to market by southwestern growers swelled capital accumulation that accelerated national economic development, furthered the rising position of the U.S. as a global power and cemented cotton’s place as the most significant commodity on earth.”

Along with these so-called ‘advances,’ and the subject of Schermerhorn’s “Bank Bonds and Bondspersons,” came “increased money supply and government policies that enabled rapidly proliferating state and local banks to unleash a deluge of paper notes and liberal loans.”  These were ‘flush times’ for white Americans.  For contemporaries, it seemed that there was limitless pools of money and access to credit with few questions asked.”  “Everyman had a scheme for realizing a fast fortune,” and Lavergne helped make the requisite institutions to realize these dreams a reality through his bank Consolidated Association.

Lavergne worked for Consolidated Association, a new bank, and he sought to get the backing of Thomas Baring in England, a credible capitalists with plenty of social capital and trust.  If Lavergne could get Baring’s backing, he could help inject finances into Louisiana’s agriculture and agricultural related enterprisers, such as refineries.  At the time—c.mid 1820s—Lavergne was interested in increasing sugar production, although finances would also go on to help the cotton industry.  He worked as a notary on Charters St. in New Orleans, which gave him insight into the demand for credit.  Notaries recorded transactions of property including that of slaves and other property.  Schermerhorn states, “they [notaries] kept a large storehouse of information as they recorded deeds, sales, mortgages, and other transactions.”  

Banks generally lent to commercial entities—not agricultural endeavors for obvious reasons.  Lavergne, however, needed to create security or at least the appearance of security to induce Baring to invest.  His ideas revolutionized the transparency of mortgages to the state.  For instance, he convinced Louisiana State legislatures to record the mortgages held in the state, thereby providing a proverbial catalog of collateral to investors, which offered them security and offered creditors with financial opportunities.  He most likely got the idea while working as a notary—noted above—and he bragged to Baring “‘that this was the first time in Louisiana that title to property were thoroughly investigated,’ thanks to Consolidated Association.”

Before Lavergne set off for England to finalize the deal with Baring, Baring had been to New Orleans and he liked what he saw, but he wanted more security than Consolidated Association had originally offered.  Therefore, Consolidated Association approached the state to further secure the deal.  Schermerhorn writes that “the state of Louisiana saved the bank (Consolidated Association) and became its principle backer… Lavergne and his allies persuaded the legislature to revise the bank’s charter so that the state would meet its bond obligations should Consolidated Association go bankrupt.”  “The state issued 2.5 million in state bonds payable by the Consolidated Association at 5% interest.”  The state’s decision was part of a wider federal program to protect domestic industries against foreign companies, such as the importation of sugar from the West Indies and Cuba.  West Indies sugar production was unstable because Britain was considering outlawing slavery, which placed the West Indies in a precarious position for investors.  In fact, the American financial and banking revolution at the time was predicated on slavery because most other countries were moving away from slave based production.  

When Lavergne arrived in England, Baring Brothers drove a hard bargain and made stipulations that benefited the Barings.  The Barings wanted the interest paid in sterling rather than dollars and the Barings also wanted to buy the bonds at a 5% discount.  Lavergne agreed, because it gave Consolidated Association prestige.  “The linchpin of a new financial scheme was in place and Baring Brothers’ bills of exchange would fund slavery’s expansion in Louisiana…Lavergne and Consolidated Association had, with the backing of Louisiana, turned lands and leaves into paper—paper that was readily convertible into gold.”

Under the Jackson administration business thrived and grew.  At this time the cotton industry was booming and the domestic slave diaspora from the East coast to the SouthWest (New Orleans) was booming.  “Banks lent to cotton factors as well as to sugar interests, and the rising tide lifted their vessels and demands for banking facilities.”  Barings interests in New Orleans commerce grew and with it a plethora of banking schemas opened throughout the U.S.

Mortgages multiplied by the dozens and property values increased.  Same Watts, a slave on the east coast tidewater.  He like so many other slaves at the time was shipped from the East coast to the South as cotton boomed.  Watts was a mortgagee who produced great amounts of credit and investment for his owner Rice C. Ballard.  The domestic slave trade of which Watts was a part was founded “on a sea of credit and a federally protected slave market.”  Increasing demand “for commodities grown chiefly by enslaved Americans were helping fuel domestic demand for slaves.”  “In the 1830s the slave trade surged nearly 84% over the previous decade.”  Watt’s was bought for twice what Ballard purchased him for.  He found himself at work in a sugar refinery, where he “was at the center of a web of finance that gave competitive advantages to Louisiana sugar producers.  On an international level, transactions. Centering on Sam Watts involved British merchant bankers and European investors buying state securities…”. Watt’s body produced credit and financial income outside of what he produced physically.  This is the irony and crux of slavery and American capitalism.  African bodies were mortgaged to purchase more land and more slaves.  

But the bubble began to rub apart at its seems.  From 1835 to around 1837, credit expanded quicker than actual “economic capacity” i.e. speculation got ahead of itself.  The Baring Brothers lost confidence.  “The sharp downturn in cotton and other commodity prices affected slave and land prices as well as merchants and everyone else up the supply chain.”  Banks had not diversified nor had they created means to build reputations that people could trust.   There was a no federal mandate, not FDIC, and states were generally left to their own devices, which faltered with commodity prices.  The 1840s spelled hard times for capitalist—North, South, and across the Atlantic.  

“As debtors sold out and creditors seized property, financial transactions converging on enslaved people like Same Watts assumed tragic proportions.  Desperate slaveholders continued to mortgage slaves./. Creditors bore the financial risk, but enslaved people paid the real costs of bad debt with shattered families and shortened lives.”

Mississippi banks failed and did not “honor its commitments,” some debtors fled to Texas.  The Democratic Party went on an anti-bank tirade and undermined banks across the U.S.  This bad repair with foreign banks was not forgotten when the South succeeded from the North and sought foreign investment.  Britain and France did not forget the unsound schemes of the South.

Louisiana forced Consolidated Associates to close.  Lavergne could not cope.  He traveled across the Mississippi River to Algiers where he plunged a sword through his chest.  His obituary read:  “a gentleman of great amenity and elegance of manners, of distinguished connections and in addition to the advantages of his elevate social position, he possessed the unqualified confidence and esteem of our business community.”

Immigration Part 1: Deterent?!

Asked whether separating children from their parents is a deterrent for illegal immigration, Jeff Sessions commented: Yes, hopefully people will get the message and come through the border at the port of entry and not break across the border unlawfully.” He added: “If you cross this border unlawfully, then we will prosecute you. It’s that simple. … If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you and that child will be separated from you as required by law. If you don’t like that, then don’t smuggle children over our border.” Trump stated:”The United States will not be a migrant camp and it will not be a refugee holding facility. … Not on my watch.”

Since May, “2,342 children have been separated from their parents after crossing the Southern U.S. border,” reports NPR journalists Camila Domonoske and Richard Gonzales. Separating children from their parents is part of Trump’s new ‘get tough’ on illegal immigration policy. Trump’s predecessor, President Obama, was not much better. He deported more illegal immigrants than previous presidents. Although Obama was one of the toughest Presidents on immigration, he did not go as far as Trump. Do to public outrage, form Democrats, Liberals, and everyone in between, Trump decided to resend this aspect of his immigration policy.

A bit of background: According to Domonoske and Gonzales, separating children form their parents was actually part of the new “‘zero-tolerance policy’ for illegal border crossings,” ordered by U.S. Attorney Jeff Sessions. Their plan was to prosecute anyone caught illegally crossing the border. So, in effect, the parents are arrested and the children become wards of the state just like if someone was arrested here in the U.S..

Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen: Under the “zero tolerance” policy, when families cross the border illegally, “Operationally, what that means is we will have to separate your family. That’s no different than what we do every day in every part of the United States when an adult of a family commits a crime.”

As noted from above, Sessions clearly sees the separation of children from their parents as a deterrent from illegally entering the U.S., despite evidence that harsh punishments do not effectively deter crimes. Harsher punishment for crimes is more of a political tool used by politicians to show the public that they are actively trying to reduce crime, but in the case of illegal immigration this tactic is sickly inhumane. It is sickly inhumane because it is political.

Bryan Lufkin’s article, “The Myth Behind Long Prison Sentences,” shows the cultural dynamics of punishment, rehabilitation, and why the myth of long prison sentences prevails in places like the U.S.. Corey Adwar find similar evidence in “Here’s Evidence That Insanely Long Prison Terms Are A Bad Way To Deter Crime,” for the Business Insider.

“What We Know: Family Separation And ‘Zero Tolerance’ At The Border.” Accessed June 21, 2018.

Lufkin, Bryan. “The Myth behind Long Prison Sentences.” Accessed June 21, 2018.

Adwar, Corey. “Here’s Evidence That Insanely Long Prison Terms Are A Bad Way To Deter Crime.” Business Insider. Accessed June 21, 2018.

Colonialism Comes Home

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The British Empire ascended to global dominance by colonizing territories; importing raw materials; manufacturing goods domestically; and reselling these goods internationally. A similar process is underway, but the nation, America, plays a lesser role than its British predecessor. Today, Americans are economically colonizing themselves.[1]

Neoliberal supply side economics and globalization have encouraged companies to export industrial capital to the Global South (Asia, South America, India, Africa, etc.). For instance, companies, such as Nike, acquire raw materials and produce goods overseas. America is the primary consumer market and corporations, like Nike, target American audiences. As companies expand, Americans loose the impetus for self-sufficiency and are thereby forced to consume more and more foreign products. British colonists were not allowed to produce their own goods, instead they were forced to purchase goods manufactured in Britain.

World Regional Geography: People, Places and Globalization, Publisher: Saylor Academy Year Published: 2012 (CC, Creative Commons)

The main difference in these two models is the role of the nation. Britain saw itself as a commonwealth. Contemporaries thought in terms of nations — not corporations. As a commonwealth, they believed that the entire country should have been enriched through trade Today, however, corporations have attained transnational sovereignty unlike their predecessors. They are not bound by national sentiment.

World Regional Geography: People, Places and Globalization, Publisher: Saylor Academy Year Published: 2012 (CC, Creative Commons)

Corporate dominance is not new. The English state, for instance, ruled through the use of various corporate entities. Not all corporations were commercial companies. In the 17th and 18th centuries, commercial companies expanded, maintained, and thus created the British Empire, but unlike their contemporary American counterparts, British companies remained loyal to the nation. Today, American corporations are loyal to their shareholders.

In India, Britain socialized the populace through various institutions and taught them that Britain, and Europe, was superior. Americans already thing America is superior, but advertising socializes and re-socializes us not only to become consumers, but also to treat one another as consumers. Advertising creates demand; it shapes and molds thought; it creates ‘us’ and ‘them.’ Colonization comes home.

[1] The historical content of this article is broad and brief, many details are left out for the sake of expediency.

[2] World Regional Geography: People, Places and Globalization, Publisher: Saylor Academy Year Published: 2012 (CC, Creative Commons)

Democracy and Capitalism in the Shadow of Reason

The U.S. Constitution was the result of the European Enlightenment. Capitalism, as understood by Smith, also resulted from the Enlightenment. At the center of political and economic liberalism lies Reason, without it, neither capitalism nor democracy will work — at least not according to how it was supposed to work. Reason, as understood by Enlightenment thinkers is gone, but its institutions remain. The American Empire is the result of political and economic practices that have outlived their guiding principal — Reason.

According to philosopher Jürgen Habermas, writing several decades ago, we are still participating in the Enlightenment Project e.g. modernity, which began in the eighteenth century by thinkers who wanted to “to develop objective science, universal morality and law, and autonomous art according to their inner logic.” Working together, Enlightenment thinkers would use science and reason to “accumulate knowledge…for the pursuit of human emancipation and the enrichment of daily life.” Scientific thought and reason would allow people to be free from scarcity, free from dogmas, free from tyranny, superstition, and other factors that impinge human liberation. Peter Hamilton, writing in the Formations of Modernity (1992) defines Reason as “a faculty which allows the person to make informed decisions between good/ bad or right/ wrong.”

With the use of Reason, there is only one outcome or one True answer to a problem. And the right answer will always prove itself — someway, somehow. This is why democracy and free market capitalism rely on Reason, because the True will reveal itself and silence any dissent, because dissent would be based on false reasoning. Alexander Hamilton, a federalist, like his peers distrusted democracy because they knew that the public often believed in false news, rumors, hysteria, etc. If the public were allowed to vote, which they were not, it could lead to utter ruin. Therefore, Hamilton suggested that the founders create and Electoral College to oversee democracy in case the public gets it wrong. As we know in the U.S. electors’ votes trump the popular vote.

Electors were to be men of education, men with the capability of using Reason instead of giving into emotions or hysteria. It was not the job of electors to represent the populace; it was their job to be white, male, property owners, who were smarter than the public.

To use Reason appropriately, a person needs information — accurate information — without which a person would be unable to make an informed decision guided by the light of Reason. Imagine the quality of the previous presidential debates. Political figures work hard NOT to answer questions. Moderators ask questions that cannot be answered in a fifteen second window of time. And if they do — we probably shouldn’t vote for them.

The role of accurate information is also important in capitalism. In the same way that a person makes the Right decision for president given the facts at their disposal, they do likewise when purchasing goods. According to the self-interest modal, the individual know what is best for her. People, using Reason, will buy only what they need or want. Producers will note the people’s demand, shift their production to meet demand, compete with each other, and produce a superior product that people want — all the time Reason is the driving force behind the decisions consumers and producers make.

But imagine a world, where producers create demand. Imagine a world where Reason doesn’t exist, where the ‘best’ possible choice of products is determined by an aura of hyper-reality. This is capitalism today. We could even go so far as to say that producers have hegemony over demand. They create demand and fill it the individual is a medium through which producers create more capital ad infinitum.

Slavery, Migration, American Power, and History

The United States became an economic super power by combining slavery and capitalism. Capitalism’s slavery emerged in the middle of the eighteenth century through the use of cotton. Although America used slavery since before it became a nation, but it did not reach its exalted status until the mid-nineteenth century with the spread of slavery and cotton production. Before cotton production, planters primarily used slaves on the eastern seaboard, especially the Carolinas, where they used slaves for rice and tobacco planting. At the time, the type of cotton found in the East was unsuited for mass production because it was too difficult to separate the husk from the fiber. Americans, however, not only found a new staple of cotton that allowed easier separation, but Eli Whitney invented the Cotton Gin which sped up this process allowing slaves to do twice the work in the same amount of time. This was not all, farmers and speculators discovered fertile land in the South West (Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia).

According to historian Joshua Rothman, in the first part of the 1830s, British demand for cotton grew exponentially as their mechanized textile industry expanded. Seeing the advantages of cotton production to the nation, the U.S. government forced Native Americans from their land in the South West and sold it at just over a dollar to American farmers. Rothman writes: “already vital to the American economy by the start of the 1830s, over the course of the decade cotton crops brought to market by southwestern growers swelled capital accumulation that accelerated national economic development, furthered the rising position of the United States as a global power and cemented cotton’s place as the most significant commodity on earth.”

The writings of Edward Baptist and Joshua Rothman are part of the new history of capitalism and slavery in America. Before this new trend, historians saw slavery as antithetical to the growth of capitalism and therefore to the expansion of America’s global power. In fact, the public, politicians, and some scholars have overlooked slavery’s role in America’s development. The roots of American power did not emerge from places and practices of today’s virtues. Our history is not a white man’s monologue, it is a cacophonous chorus of pluralistic narratives struggling to be heard, but to reimagine our future; to imagine that we have the agency to make a better place — according to Giroux — relies, in part, on retelling and re-inventing our historical narratives.

Further Readings:

Slavery and American Capitalism

In the Business of Slavery and the Rise of American Capitalism (2015), Calvin Schermerhorn suggests that the strategies of slave financiers, shippers, and others involved in the interstate slave trade “quickened the march of American development.” “Their stories,” Schermerhorn states, “about the “ventures that financed trade and transported enslaved people charts the progress of 19th century American capitalism, more striking than any other enterprise” — including manufacturing.[1]

Schermerhorn’s argument is part of the new history of slavery and capitalism. American historians, in the beginning of the 20th century, would not have agreed with Schermerhorn. During the professionalization of history, the early 20t century, according to Edward Baptist, historians considered slavery a pre-modern paternalistic institution “not committed to profit seeking.”[2]Historians, Baptist argues, were merely repeating arguments heard before and after the Civil War, which regarded ‘free labor’ (wage labor) as modern in comparison with slavery. Contemporaries in the North believed that slave labor hindered the national economy because wage labor (free labor) was naturally more productive. Slavery, they believed went against everything modernity stood for e.g. machine labor. Despite humanitarian objections to slavery many Northerners saw Southerners as social conservatives stuck in their ways, unable to forgo the institutions of their fore-fathers. But as Matthew Karp says, “in the evolving world of the mid-nineteenth century the South’s commitment to bondage made it distinctive, not irrelevant or obsolete.”[3] Slaveholders were knowledgeable of new scientific innovations and embraced modernity as much as industrialists. The New History of Capitalism and slavery, written by authors such as Robert Baptist, Seth Rockman, and others, had turned this view on its head, showing that slavery in fact ushered the United States into the status of minor super power in the 19th century. According to Karp, in fact, Southern farmers became so powerful that they served as the international ambassadors for America because cotton was the most sought out product on international markets. It is possible that the history of capitalism and slavery is recent might be because historians have moved beyond the narrow confines of nationalists’ histories, which helps explain how slavery assisted America’s drive toward capitalism. For instance, in the introduction to Slavery’s Capitalism, Rockman and Sven Beckert write:

The story [of slavery as a constitutive element in American capitalism] begins with the exploitative labor regime of plantation itself but quickly expands outward along the nation’s financial and mercantile networks to infuse the broader cultures and practices of American business: for that labor regime sustained a political economy that predicated liberal capitalism’s unrivaled opportunities on the unforgiving oppression of chattel slavery. And the story does not end at the nation’s borders. As the primary supplier of cotton, the commodity at the heart of the first Industrial Revolution, the United States occupied a distinctive position in the global economy. American reliance on world markets to vend cotton and supply capital shaped the nation’s political economy in ways that would ultimately limit the expectancy o slavery’s capitalism and make way for the more recognizable iterations of industrial and financial capitalism of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries.[4]

Another impetus for the new history of capitalism and slavery was the 2008 stock market debacle, which invited the public to look at what historians have to say about the history of capitalism in general. These two factors — transnational/ international history and the history of capitalism acted as an impetus for the history of slavery’s capitalism and allowed historians to overturn the prevailing view that slavery worked against modernity. Rockman and Beckert state: “historians have until recently excluded the slaveholding regions of the United States from the so-called ‘transition to capitalism’ and have looked elsewhere for the ‘market revolution’ that channeled larger and larger segments of American life toward the cash nexus.”[5]

The new history of slavery’s capitalism reveals histori3es that are uncomfortable for Americans’ to swallow. Many public figures would simply like to overlook that slavery was responsible for America’s economic progression and later, that institutional racism would privilege white masculinity. These issues are being hotly debated today as America politics has revealed what most of us knew was true all along — that many of those in power are racist and misogynistic to say the least. Even the seemingly neutral doctrine of economics i.e. capitalism is not immune from the social and cultural stratification that has long been part of America’s history. It is vital that we challenge the hegemonic tales of American history that privilege white power, class warfare, and all the injustices, which it claims to stand against. Our vocabulary of democracy and freedom are danger, it is time we take command over language, over our histories, which are indistinguishable from our identities.

[1] Schermerhorn, Calvin. The Business of Slavery and the Rise of American Capitalism, 1815–1860. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2015, 1.

[2] Edward E. Baptist, The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism, Reprint edition (New York: Basic Books, 2016), XVI.

[3] Karp, Matthew. This Vast Southern Empire. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2016, 4. See also pg 2–4. Karp’s book provides an excellent overview about the power of Southern planters in international politics.

[4] Beckert, Sven, and Seth Rockman. Slavery’s capitalism: a new history of American economic development, 2016, 5–6.

[5] Sven Beckert and Seth Rockman, eds., Slavery’s Capitalism: A New History of American Economic Development (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016), 3.

Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism

Seth Rockman, Paper Technologies of Capitalism

History 150, The History of Capitalism, Professor Seth Rockman

Financial Capitalism, Proper Capitalism, and Trouble in Paradise

After the 2008 financial bust, scholars informed the public about the difference between financial capitalism and proper capitalism. Financial capitalism stems from speculation and debt economies. Financial capitalism does not concern itself with the production and consumption of goods as such and to some ‘old school’ capitalists — it simply is not capitalism. Proper capitalism involves seeks a balance between producers, laborers, and consumers. Although it should be mentioned that producers do not seek always seek balances, hence stratification — they are their own parasites. However, producers will say this of laborers — though they are wrong.

Zizek, Slavoj. Trouble in Paradise: From the End of History to the End of Capitalism.Place of publication not identified: Melville House, 2017

Zizek, in Trouble in Paradsise(2014), suggest that financial meltdowns ‘remind’ people that “capital is not a closed loop.” Meaning that the circulation of capital entails the production and selling of goods — capital must be spent. So, when a financial crisis hit, people think ‘let’s get back to basics,’ ‘Let’s get back to proper capitalism.’ “However, the more subtle lesson of crises and meltdowns is that there is no return to this reality — all the rhetoric of ‘let us move from the virtual space of financial speculation back to real people who produce and consume’ is deeply misleading; it is ideology at its purest. The paradox of capitalism is that you cannot throw out the dirty water of financial speculations and keep the healthy baby of real economy: the dirty water effectively is the ‘bloodline’ of the healthy baby.”[1]

[1] Zizek, Slavoj. Trouble in Paradise: From the End of History to the End of Capitalism. Place of publication not identified: Melville House, 2017, 38.

Universal History, Neoliberalism, Globalization, and Comparative Advantage, aka the Occidental Hangover:

This is an introduction to longer ongoing blog. I’m publishing it here mostly for feedback. Any comments would be greatly appreciated — please be nice thank you.

Liberalism is a centrifugal political force that has defined — or at least helped define — national and international relations since the 18th century. It was — and in some cases, still is — an ideology of freedom and liberty for the individual. Liberals believe in democracy and capitalism. Though capitalism is not a necessary and sufficient belief for being a liberal — Pinochet liked capitalism, but not liberalism. In the 19th century, when European and the American Empire spread across the world, it sought to Enlighten savage people and set them on the course democratic freedom, capitalism, and liberalism — more or less. In the eighteenth century, Scottish and French scholars devised a time line of human development. It started with the savages who did not own property, they did not till the land, instead they merely hunted and gathered. According to Hobbes, their lives were nasty brutish and short. The second link in the chain came with simple horticulture and pastoralism. 18th century contemporaries called this barbarism. Finally, humans discovered agriculture, which launched them into the final stage — Civilization. This, they called Universal History. It was based on the evidence collected from myriad cultures during Europe’s expansion across the globe and scholars hope that they could create a social science with the same predicative and manipulative success as natural science — we’re still struggling with this aspect. As you can probably tell, Universal History was anything but Universal. For Eighteenth century intellectuals, Universal merely meant European — or some form of European — something Europeans could easily understand.

Universal history was intimately tied up with the idea of progress. How else would they be able to teach savages to plant grain, if humans could not develop according to the universal natural laws of history. Many Enlightenment philosophies, especially those of natural law have been discarded by today’s standards, but somehow Universal History, according to Brett Bowden, remains intact. Though not completely. Most intellectuals have given up on the teleological dialectic to civilization, but they believe in progress and development — hell! They have to.

Institutions such as the IMF, the World Bank, and other institutions aim at helping troubled countries develop industries with which they can use to compete in the global market, thereby enriching themselves and the people in their nation. This idea, of course, relies on the idea of development. A c countries development has to grow beyond the initial loans and interest provided to the country by the IMF. But many countries in the Global South have problems meeting these demands, so the IMF sets up a Structural Readjustment Program, where the IMF effectively governs the nation, through a proxy, under the rubric of neo-liberal capitalism and comparative advantage.

Neoliberal capitalism emerged in Western countries, America and Britain, because of stagflation. The solution for stagflation, according to supply-side economists, was less government interference in business and incentives for manufacturers (producers) rather than incentives for consumers (demand-side). However, in June 2016, IMF admitted that “instead of delivering growth, some neoliberal policies have increased inequality, in turn jeopardizing durable expansion.”[1]

Asking if the International Monetary Fund supports economic neoliberalism is like asking if the Pope is Catholic — the answer is so obvious it seems silly to even raise the question. The IMF has been one of the principle endorsers of neoliberalism — an ideology that promotes free markets, free trade, and small government — for decades.

That is what makes it so shocking that the IMF recently released a paper titled “Neoliberalism: Oversold?” questioning the efficacy of a program that has been the basis of mainstream economic policy in most of the Western world since the end of the Cold War.[2]

This means that the Structural Readjustment Policies were wrong and that they created the very problems they sought to avoid. This is far from an “oops” moment, before looking at the ramifications in light of Universal History, we should turn to comparative advantage — because it only makes matters worse.

Comparative advantage is an economic theory whereby two countries conduct their trade so as to exploit one another’s mutual productive capabilities. For instance, let us say that two countries produce both bicycles and butter. Country 1 has an absolute advantage of producing better bicycles and butter over country 2. Bicycles bring Country 1 more revenue, but in order to supply the demand for butter, they must reduce bicycle production enough so that they can also produce butter — this is their opportunity cost. But if Country 1 trades Country 2 for butter, Country 1 will not have to give up producing bicycles and they can put their resources into what provides the best among of profit. Therefore, the two countries have a mutual or comparative advantage.

On a global scale, this means that with the help of the IMF, a country would find its best comparative advantage and put their investments, employment, money for infrastructure into their comparative advantage because it would effectively bring the best amount of income for the country. This in effect creates a monoculture, where a nation gives up planting — say — grain and produces more bicycles. But this country will only enrich themselves if the global market is static and the demand for bicycles remains steady. In the event that they need more grain, they must import this grain from elsewhere, because they gave up their resources to produce grain. By importing grain without selling enough bicycles the country goes into a trade deficit, whereby the depend on more loans to boost up their productive capabilities in bicycles or in another form of comparative advantage — determined by the IMF.

This is the modern-day version of Universal History, where development is monetarized and lead by Western countries according to a faulty ideology of neoliberal global trade and comparative advantage.

[1] “Neoliberalism: Oversold? — Finance & Development, June 2016.” Accessed September 24, 2017.

[2] Geier, Ben. “Even the IMF Thinks Neoliberalism Has Failed.” Fortune. Accessed September 24, 2017.

Consumerism and the American®™© Spirit

Andy Warhol

We live in a capitalist consumer society. Consumerism lies at the heart of our economy and our economy lies at the center of American power and influence. It is the duty of American citizens, who love their country, to spend their money as much and as often as possible. Advertising plays a vital role in uniting the personal self-interests of individual citizens with the will of nation. Many Americans readily admit that they do not like advertising. In fact, very few citizens actually enjoy commercials, despite the new comedic-turn in advertising, but we must spend more time appreciating what advertising and consumerism does for our own psyche and glory of the U.S.

Whether or not we actively watch commercial, we are still impacted by them in many ways. For instance, our social interactions are often mediated by commercials. People we interact with on the street or even our family are often effected by television, thereby making us influenced by it too. The importance of advertising firms and the geniuses who create these sixty-second glimpses into the hearts and minds of America are often overlooked. Advertisers not only help socialize us at a young age, but they are also social engineers. They are today’s psychologists who offer both diagnosis and cure within a short span of time — and it’s free.

Commercials follow a simple two-part paradigm. First, they tell you what is wrong with you. They note, often accurately, that you suffer from some sort of insecurity about yourself or some kind of merchandise that will both solve a problem and fulfill you in unexpected ways. By notifying us of our insecurities — often ones we didn’t know we had — they tell us how to fill that gnawing existential void we, as Americans, feel, but do not understand. This is where advertising unites our self-interest and the will of the nation.

Our proverbial hunger will never subside. This entices us to spend money, thus feeding the economy. It is imperative that this insatiable appetite, this hole, this longing, emptiness, and existential crisis never be alleviated for any prolonged period of time. Our peace of mind, our contentment, is a threat to freedom and democracy. Our insecurities, our emptiness, our longing perpetuate American capitalism, expand the frontiers of freedom, and unites us as a country and Empire — the greatest of which the world has never known.

Bandung, Indonesia and the New Geography of Production

In 1955, the Non Aligned Movement met in Bandung. Indonesia and made a list of demands to the first (U.S.) and second (Soviet Union) worlds. The Bandung conference would become a significant force for the Third World Project. They demanded Peace, Bread, and Justice from the world’s leading powers.

Peace, of course was on the top of their agenda, because nuclear war between Russia and the U.SD. would be globally destructive. Financing the cold war was obviously depleting resources that could be put to better use. The “military industrial complex” soaked up more and more money that could be used for human development. Even President Eisenhower was ‘irked’ at how much money the U.S. spent to keep their position of global dominance. The “military complex,” also wanted to extend its reach and indoctrinate third world countries.[1] According to Vijay Prashad, they wanted to “insinuate a security complex over the social agenda of the thirds world.” This included selling arms. In fact the U.S., at one point, became the world’s leading small arms distributor in the world. Arms proliferation in conjunction with the age-old American philosophy of “our enemy’s enemy is our friend” has contributed to global conflicts since before the Korean War. For instance, Afghanistan, the First Gold War, arming ISIL, and so on and so forth.

Next, the demanded for bread, went well for the NAM. For instance, in the 1970s, under the direction of Raul Prebisch, from Argentina, who called the “IMF a conspiracy against the laws of the market,” the NAM had several successes including OPEC.[2]

Justice. This was unobtainable. Members of NAM “recognized that little of their agenda would be able to move forward without a more democratic international structure. The UN had been hijacked by the World Bank had been captured by the Atlantic powers, and the GATT international economic order. It was helped that the NAM and the G77 would put pressure on both the West and the East to attend political spaces to the new nations. It was not to be.”

In 1969 Henry Kissinger stated: “Nothing important can come from the South. The axis of history starts in Moscow crosses over toe Washington, and then goes to Tokyo. What happens in the South is of no importance.”

In 1975 at the Chateau de Rombouillet, Prashad announces, leaders the G7 came together to tackle the recent problems brought about by the NAM. The sought to tackle three major problems brought about by NAM. The first was the social democratic demand for fair (or higher wages). Second was the communist problem, which simply acted as bargaining alternative for workers. And third was the Third World Project and the creation of OPEC.[3]Their answer, Prashad argues, was the new geography of production. That is, move production into new areas that were unburdened by the constraints mentioned above. This is now known as off-shoring, outsourcing, etc.

[1] Prashad, Vijay. The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South. London; New York: Verso, 2014,

[2] Ibid., 2–3

[3] Ibid., 3–4.