Sunday, January 15, 2006

Review Part Four: 1912 was 1929? (European Economy 1914-2000)

Review Part Four: 1912 was 1929? (European Economy 1914-2000) Derek H. Aldcroft (2001)

My understanding of World War One's greatest practical foreshadowing came early in my reading. It was during early elementary school days that I was worlds away from Dick and Jane. My sisters tell me that nearly from the point that I could talk I was using words too complex for them to understand; they were often running to the dictionary to try to interpret what I seemed to pick up easily. To some degree this may represent sesquipedalian qualities, or the ability to throw about large words for which the meanings are not always generally known. But it must be attributed to the reading of books. I know that I started by reading captions, cartoons, and standards like Dr. Zeuss. But somewhere I did jump far beyond that. In the nature of language usage it is common in common communication to often necessarily speak in a simplified manner. But I would agree with Jung that the inner voice is often highly more evolved, more complex, and the more one reads, the more one widely reads in challenging, constantly challenging texts, the greater one's ability to process complex or difficult constructions of thoughts. Especially if one is writing for pleasure, which is often unheard of in some circles. Modern technology, and strongly anti-reading sentiments among our developed world masses seems to implicate any rich appreciation of difficult to read books sometimes. To which I like to prove my stubborness to resist.

In the exercise of writing about them, I am hoping to help interpret and make sense of certain economic events in a way to which they might be made more vitally interesting to the common reader. As I may not be one myself, I seek to solidify that first relationship between my interest and the topic of a book and for what reasons I perpetuate a detailed accounting of my readings of books lately. As in my mind, I believe each reader possesses far greater depths in the abilities of deciphering complex thoughts, arrangements of arguments, and points of significance relevant to symbolics and patterns of useful reference for evaluation and expansion of that intrinsic knowledge than one might realize.

So I am after knowledge acquired at a reasonable price, through which its real benefit is the nourishment of a mind perhaps starving for it, not for further strides in career necessarily, or accomplishment exclusively, but wishing itself into new interplays of ideas. I think innovative ideas, creative solutions, of simplicity, to complex social, or organisational issues do originate in individual ideas and study of ideas. Without tacking them about individually, how does one really evaluate ideas otherwise? To this purpose, without well developed skills in tracing that path to enlightened interest in many topics, each one is not always fully prepared, especially depending on how one early related to their own social groupings and specifically how highly evolved was an early interest in personal learning. It is early learned that learning itself must often immediately cast itself as the completion of a determined task. That which is too often usually defined by someone else in what one reads.

So associative memory of reading experiences generally appears to encourage the relinquishing of the individual of any responsibility for developing that reading mind, and negative influences or associations take a strong hold on the reading mind, often in its willingness to permit barriers to its own learning to be implanted through cultural programming. For example this might be worthy of being discussed, or that might be less relevant. Depending on context, or topic, or intention, who really determines? Many experts unfortunately and fortunately are more or less easily deciphered and put to practical use. One does not break completely from communicative design through extensive diffusive readings. But one does increase one's own scope of personal, deep knowledge, and an appreciation for the intellectual benefits of assembling that knowledge in writing in unique ways is perhaps reflected in a tendancy to attempt to share new flavours with readers. However, as the scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz notes, plenty of people without a brain continue to have nothing important to say or write. Thus if every importance is defined as the requirement of a brain then much silence mught occur in the determined seeking out of one.

Which in turn is meant to encourage greater reading, where many might tend to give up in shallow or comfortable waters, choosing not to swim further, not at the cost of social connectedness, but perhaps without benefit to the starving mind which remains, which is not well fed on a diet of popular culture. The extrinsic status quo at all times only appears to deprive it of necessary activities, to divert and entertain, in immensely repetitive and heavily scoring ways, as of iceberg rifts in the banks of coastal shore shelves and banks, no real substitute for the intrinsic food it values and requires, for which tulip bulbs are ever implanted there. Which is to say the growth of thoughts springing forth from within and grown naturally, in the earth of one's own mind are of intangible value but extremely difficult to claim as one's own.

That is one method by which an individual may grow, one which many do not seek within themselves. That self which grows a garden of ideas within its own mind, that which feeds uses great books as tools to help conceive of some of the understanding of the nature and beauty of the individual mind. A portion of which may exist in conscious or unconscious flowerings, as of Darwin's essential splicing and resplicing of genetic cross-polinations. But I seek in reading to be inspired by what is available to be learned. And as such, writings which may at first appear meandering may simply be the wrinkles and folds of an evolving tree slowly recognized thus worth exploring.

My Dad early fed my interest in Maritime History with a series of books on the Titanic disaster. Later during undergraduate days one of my English Professors, Dr. Davies, noted that the Titanic disaster was exactly that, a complete foreshadowing of the First World War. There are several angles worthy of note in application to an understanding of the economics of the age, things that romantic dramatics and famous movies do not note, aspects which in turn are a good explanation for what went wrong economically in 1929.

But there are clear opportunities and pitfalls in reading extensively, especially without any clear direction. The Killing Fields of Cambodia for example, where anyone with spectacles was immediately put to death is a pretty obvious cue to conformance to social value systems. Similarly those without exactly the right academic credentials, those who should propose to write out of love for the writing itself. Blasphemers. But seeing the mis-steps perpetuated economically, it is obvious academics themselves were ill heard through the 1920s.

Socially, the pattern of acceptance is often the dumbing down of intellectual communication or debate to the will of the social majority, where polar views better serve quick, sharp, pronounced economic benefits. Where if that serves to explain economics as it is today, common reference to rap music being of Chicago origin is a useful example. Then a great musical dumbing down could represent the possibility that fewer and fewer people know how to collectively create harmony, melody, and song. Possibly not true. Just not played on the radio. Or further, that perhaps the world would never have heard the voice of Roy Orbison if he had lived in our times, as his face was not his best visible attribute. Where image has become everything rather than a small part of the social framework, the majority forgets the practical value of content, knowledge, beautiful lyrics, hopeful aspirations, shared human values or books beyond the Oprah listings.

The determined practical social conditioning of our times mirrors the corporate presences and status quos which it prefers and perpetuates for its own benefits. Always, a less knowledgeable consumer is easier to be marketed and sold to on any product or service. And while rap music does tell the story of poverty, and social injustices in and among urban youth and black populations of America, it is not always provocative of greater harmony, concensus-building or a unified voice among people with different or diverse interests to creatively mark social progress or amelioration of a peaceful place in individual minds, where new solutions to complex problems must be learned to achieve successful growth intellectually. Individual vision provides one with the tools to possibly changing one's circumstances or views on things.

I am still waiting for a new Monk, a new Basie, a new Ellington. So if I make little of the importance of rap music, I think it easily exemplifies a desire for rhythm and song to provoke an improvement in the variety of, not a perpetuation of tired, destructive perspectives especially identified in the mind of an individual writer. So I still hope some of its greatest fans will take it as a cue to pick up a saxophone, a guitar, or drums, and learn to play and create their own rhythms, or learn to play some real instruments, in the learning to make some joyful sounds and songs of joy and forgiveness, personal growth or change. This only comes from personal innovation, practice and experimentation, much as one learns the standards, at some point one must learn to develop improvisational skills which push those standards forward to a new focus. However if standards are poorly conceived in status quo arrangements, culture and society loses its push.

I remember a guy named Dave in Kingston, Ontario, an old neighbour of my sister. He was in his late twenties, and highly disadvantaged due to dyslexia. However his challenges were early mis-diagnosed as mental retardation, and while I would say that is not the politically correct word for it, the results of such a mis-diagnosis were his immediate instituionalisations for the next twenty years of his life or so, until new measurement techniques were used to properly address his condition. By which time his social skills were beyond repair, maintained on a disability pension, he was returned to regular school, eventually attaining a high school certificate. But his love for a newly acquired skill attached itself to a topic of great obsession. That was the topic of World War Two Fighter Bomber Pilots.

The environmental results of his institutional upbringing had somehow warped his mind perhaps irreperably maybe with some form of idiot savantism, as well as buried his abilities for further social skills learning. He kept returning to the same targets. While in one key area, his knowledge was probably supreme, however, he had the tendancy to speak about it for hours at a time, his entire library was virtually all about World War Two Fighter Bomber Pilots. It was a symbolic and virtuous attempt perhaps to connect with individuals with first hand experience of these events which propelled him on extensive group mailings of his collections of books globally to have copies signed by living and remaining airmen near their pictures in his books. So much of his satisfaction in life came from an adoration and veneration of their daring exploits, his remaining living heros, brought to life through his first interests in reading, which made his mania-like discussions of these essentially quite narrow topics fairly limited means to communication with common, troll-like readers, those with few corresponding or related interests.

He was constantly forgeting that conversation is about two people taking turns, in listening and speaking. And that quite generally, most conversations are mostly about no serious topics, a great deal of apparently irrelevant chatter, mostly in efforts to confirm social relatedness, unity, power distance, control, influence, individualism and communitarian values. But something about my earliest readings on the Titanic are similarly socially useful or not, or the carrying of knowledge which was seriously a little irrelevant to most kids, through the age of dual monologues.

With Dave I could empathize a bit, with his real adult challenges to relate to average readers and to average people in an average social way in general. So if what I launch into now (or already) appears as a form of monologue, an unravelling of the mind, temper your limits on patience, particularly that programming of the mind is hard-wired into the social system, the world of the developed west has encouraged each to limit and abridge story-telling abilities for barely a hundred years. The wisdoms each may think are acquired through experience, are perhaps actually something each perhaps merely needs to uncover in the personal depths of quiet contemplation, through one of its forms, necessarily, the reading of texts that are directed to speak to and fuel that uncovering. And in the writing of that experience, always intending to attempt to reach that purpose in one's reader.

The Titanic was a symbol of the developed world's first mechanical ability to fuel, build and create economic currents of change beyond fully understood previous scopes of human understanding. Man's ability to acquire tool-making skills had progressed slightly and pragmatically over previous thousands of years of generations, but the industrial and manufacturing age was as of deus ex machina or god in the machine, the first allusions to which were made much of much earlier through Greek drama. The results of the boom starting in 1880 were scale production and a desire to increasingly widen the stamp of economic and technological change on a world that was intellectually still unprepared to take social or individual responsibility for the causes and effects of such dramatic increases in personal wealth building abilities, finance capital aggregations, national consciousness, and aspects of competitiveness. All of these were helping to define a newly minted global capitalist perspective on business.

So great technological leaps often caper ahead of minds unaccustomed to change, in the dullness through which stuffing cotton in little bottles or the perpetuation of a linear production process formulates a fairly rigid and disevolutionary concept on the best processes for communicating and disseminating learning for the sake of economic growth. Or the attempt to diversify perspective. To such ends, April 14, 1912 is one way of describing what happened in the fall of 1929.

Titanic itself was the best mechancial follow-up to Frankenstein or Dracula in symbolic terms that the new technologically evolving world could produce of itself, but this time wedded to the economic world of Europe and America completely. So too, international trading and stockmarkets had become the link in the global world of trade which required increasingly the diversion of capital to debtor-creditor accounts due to the war.

The Americans in particular were losing a Puritan inspired frugality, at least in the increased display of great wealth as a further diversion of capital from industry, production and productivity gains. Benjamin Franklin, well lauded, might have become less popular among venture capitalists, factory builders, architects, or scientists. Monuments are costly agglomerations of dead capital. Corporate leviathans required production at greater and greater tangible, visible measures of progress in all areas of social and cultural reprogramming through which to display new economic powers achieved, new standards of quality and production were highly competitive means of assuming creditor relationships with international interests seeking evidence of investment potentialities.

The world of business and industry were apparently the obvious domains by which mankind could reportedly surmount countless age-old problems be they poverty, unemployment, border wars, and the simple desire for individual ingenuity to prove itself successful in crossing boundaries of social class designations, increase individual wealth and prestige, recognition of improved place and position through which association with industry and increases in scale and scope of technological change could tangibly provide.

Awareness of advertising and marketing techniques were early used to furnish these goals and clearly demonstrated the vast gaps between rich and poor, and helped plot the progress required of individuals to attempt their economic crossings from one camp to the other. The best example I can think to display the spiritual effect of this comes from a simple notation I came across somewhere once. It was touching and relevant to my mother's family's perceived sense of real physical poverty growing up in rural New Brunswick.

At the turn of the century most people were churchgoers. As churchgoers their churches across many nations in most areas, urban or rural, were provided with portico-like structures, if not exactly full barns, but semi-permanent shelters for the semi-stabling of horses and wagons, necessarily the transport of choice pior to the advent of Model T Fords and automobiles. But during the transition to cars and trucks, and far before was often necessary, as in, far before cars and trucks outnumbered horses, these stabling sheds and their services to horse and buggy were often quickly removed. They were old order standards, no longer useful to new order technological swings.

So even in the Christian-sponsored developing world, apparently especially at church, the distinction between "haves" and "have nots" were being made, at the cost of the physical health of living horses, often susceptible to pneumonia or heat and chill changes in humidity anyway, similar to humans. If such methods of encouragement for adoption of new technology were not expensive enough, it also impacted probably on the costs of medicines and medical maintenance of those remaining horses and their hold-outs. A similar encouragement is made on factory farms, where cheaper beef is competitively priced far below real costs on rural private farms. That must be why there are few cattle farmers left in Northern New Brunswick these days. Technology and scale of production benefits often transfers wealth away from individual holders to corporate collectives.

And thus as scale production increased in cars and trucks, it made the costs of maintaining old technology, which still worked fine, appear less economical. Reference today the continued usage of horse and buggy in various developing nations. For many they remain necessary there, as they get the transportation job done, however not guaranteeing growth in scale of production or technology in cars and trucks for various economic reasons. And thus technology may socially and economically perpetuate product cycles merely to increase consumption. It feeds by making obsolete its last production cycle.

Horses were not broken in the west, and no one really needed to get to church faster. But the obvious race was who would get to church in a car instead of a horse first. Which highly impacted on the consumption of cars and trucks, which fueled faster cycles of delivery in trade and business, reducing the costs of unit production. And thus economic distinctions made determined who was old-fashioned, or poor, who was modern, who was "in-tune" who was out. Who made money, who scratched out a living. It is notable that in many villages and towns of Canada, there remained no sizeable collections of cars and trucks until the 1950s and 1960s to say anything of indoor plumbing, toilets, or constant electricity. But the definition of poor simply changed. Poverty was no longer determined by real income, but on perceived rates of consumption.

Titanic helped set the stage for popular culture which wealth demanded. Never were so few notables ready to pose and preen for media, a popular culture past-time, and the message was, "Look at what I have got which you have not got. Work harder and maybe you can buy what I have." The message remains essentially the same, but it has multiplied a hundred times. Perhaps also linked, the disproportionate survival rate of First and Second Class passengers, the prime cultural realisation that Third Class would always be on the bottom, no matter how hard they sought to improve themselves, as in the Depression that followed 1929.

Titanic was designed to serve the whims of a new rich entreprenurial business elite, which wished to capitalize on the sizeable presence of its advertising power, as well as unprecedented services to all classes of immigrants and travellers as well, just the latest in a long line of biggest, best, and brightest industrial dreams sold through mass marketing to a believing public that their individual aspirations were best served by buying in to new technology and consuming their previous spending or saving habits. But this latest dream took on a serious task. Its allure was in its grandoise claim to unparalleled safety, convenience, and finally the immenseness of attached or associated hubris, which matched the dimensions of the ship. Its symbolic task? To measure mankind's feats in technology as at long last, flawless, perfect, undisputed, unsinkable. This was Titanic's role on economic earth.

It was economic man's vision of himself, that which often appears to occur, over and over regardless of the age, as leaders and successful entrepreneurs often forget the rise and fall of economic growth cycles as Aldcroft relates. Everyone agreed, as in their christening of Titanic, that the dangers of economic downturn had been felled forever. It was going to be Las Vegas forever. For all involved. Without concern so the economic future was painted golden. Hiccups yes. Prolongued downturns? Impossible. Such a flaw was perfected.

So that fateful night of April 12, 1914 was a combination of serious compounded human errors. The drippings of many never make it into popular movies. That Titanic was never properly "run in" prior to its maiden voyage mirrors the fact that the developing world apparently had no idea it was developing purely out of a desire to wage the largest global conflict yet fought in history. It was a brutal experiment played out in real economic impacts. Asset reallocations, endless international financing, consumption patterns, surpluses untracked, were provoking market conditons which would delay but not forestall a seven to ten year economic cycle. Production schedules were raced to meet sailing schedules on Titanic the same as loans paying out without real valuations on the abilities of debtors to pay them back without the expropriation of their neighbouring competitors assets through war or global pyramid schemes. That Titanic sailed without determination of the safe operating procedures necessary for a vastly over-powered engine room and a vastly under-sized rudder help define the role of Federal Reserve Board interest rates determinations on the effects of US bank lending policies to its European debtors. Perhaps even today.

Titanic's coal requirements were hindered by strikes and supply delays to the point that neighbouring line ships were pilfered for their smaller, but still collective supplies, leaving many delayed or out of service. As well, many White Star Line crews were transferred in great proportions to Titanic nearly upon the day of sailing. So those most logically expected to know how to provide assistance in case of emergency, which was never contemplated, officers and deckhands alike, were often daily lost in a maze of service halls, decks and companionways already.

The business world of the turn of the century would have been similarly confusing, great numbers of mergers and acquisitions, with large proportions of employed managerial staff endlessly transferring from one business to another with accompanying confusion and all in hopes for greater successes.

The latest technology in lifeboats and articulating davits was nearly inoperable to crew not even familar with the ship itself let alone cutting edge technology never before installed on a sailing ship. The same could be said for international accounting and markets intelligence then as well as today. Even the mere turn of Titanic's screws at slow revolutions in harbour at Southampton docks was enough to tear neighbouring liners off their moorings, nearly swinging their sterns directly into Titanic's port side or left, seemingly rescued from impact by a fast thinking tugboat captain. Similarly, currency exchanges and speculations post-war were perpetuating such domino-like effects from nation to nation minus the tugboats.

The on watch crow's nest lookouts on Titanic were similarly prepared for their duties, in some cases proven neither able to judge depth perception, nor adequately estimate distance, and were even (seemingly impossibly) not provisioned with binoculars, although regulations stipulated them, there was even a locker noted to provision them in the nest. But it was empty. So too financial management efforts of previously more staid growth periods in Europe and America were just not up to the task of effectively measuring their own economic progress. It was a collective failure, for which economists like Aldcroft are able to provide lots of Titanic-like examples. Long-term vision in economic terms is often as uninteresting as longwinded book reviews. The European and American economies literally struck themselves in 1929, their flexiblisations of capital had pro-offered them finally the opportunity to kick their own bums out.

The losses of Titanic and the incomplete and vastly different approaches to the disaster made by both British and American official inquiries record a lot of preventable human errors, from possible cannibalisations of scrapped liners on their way to the wrecking yards, in the mix of its iron plating, to the use of bolted rather than welded rivets technology that suggest Titanic might have been a floating eggshell structurally anyway, without the iceberg collision. A similar analogy should be levelled on the economic trading world for the first fifty years of its growth. And perhaps it still remains so.

None have ever suggested that Titanic may have been figuratively sinking since it was built, perhaps taking on water from far previous to port of departure, or that perhaps full-steam ahead was merely an effort to reach port as soon as possible rather than a desire to win the Blue Riband. A new sailing record by a fat, slow ship was a feat all knew was impossible anyway. But a race with itself seemingly anyway to which the economics of the world up to 1929 also appeared to be trying to avoid in its own wake. Captain Smith is the clear example of a capable leader being led astray by corporate dictates regardless of consquences. He was followed to his watery tomb by many other obedient financiers anad diligent speculators. Perhaps the iceberg was merely a reasonable excuse to allow the ship to founder due to some attributable cause other than poor workmanship or a leak that simply could not be plugged.

In that case, Titanic's iceberg, like the events of 1929, came just in time for an economic machine which had fully caught up with its own capitalisation process, and could no longer float on its own growth alone. To rise again, it would simply have to sink. And as it took several decades to find the bones of the drowned Titanic at the bottom, it took equally as long in Aldcroft's view for analysts to make the most of their experiences in a century of cycles previous to and following 1929.

No comments: