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Posted August 30, 2004
A great historian, a great book
Professor Ferguson delights us with this great piece of historical, economic and political analysis. He argues that the U.S. could actually do a much better job in the world by spreading liberal institutions. One thing is undeniable: dictators in many poor countries have brought misery to their own people and a powerful nation as the U.S. (given the lack of interest of other powerful nations, say Germany, France, Japan) could help spread democracy, free markets and small government (perhaps it would not be a bad idea at all to spread liberal economic institutions to most of Western Europe). Prof. Ferguson also argues that the word 'Empire' has been considered as a 'bad word' when it actually isn't. The British Empire was successful in spreading liberal institutions. Americans should actually learn from British mistakes to do a better job. I find one problem in Professor Ferguson's analysis. Many times, the spread of liberal institutions to many countries is just not possible. In some cases, culture, religion, and many other factors (say geography) act as obstacles to the adoption of democracy and free market, perhaps because these institutions are just not the best under certain circumstances. That these institutions are good for one society does not necessarily mean that they are good always for all societies.
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Posted August 26, 2004
The flash Harry of modern history-writing
Ferguson, Professor of Financial History at New York University, has a lifelong passion for finance capital, witness his books The cash nexus and The house of Rothschild. Having written an overrated history of the British Empire, he here tackles the US empire. He tells the Americans how to run their empire, even criticising Bush for being `too diplomatic¿. ¿I write not as a carping critic but as an avid admirer of the United States who wants it to succeed in its imperial undertakings.¿ Ferguson backs General MacArthur¿s approach in the Korean war, that the US should drop atomic bombs on China and Korea. When he writes of `casualties in Vietnam¿, he means US casualties, ignoring the three million Vietnamese killed by US aggression. Ferguson notes, without explaining, that all the US interventions in Latin America, Central America and the Caribbean never produced a single democracy. He claims that Cuba supports terrorist groups, ignoring the 40 years of terrorist attacks on Cuba from Florida. He sneers, ¿Like all revolutionary regimes, Khomeini¿s Iran was soon embroiled in a war with its neighbour.¿ He ignores the US backing for Saddam¿s attack. He aims to give us a cost/benefit analysis of empire but gives us instead a stream of caricatures and smears. For Britain, empire meant capital exported abroad rather than invested in British industry and jobs. The ruling class gained its profits through imperial theft; the working class lost the work. India under the Empire grew only 0.12% a year, because, says Ferguson, it got too little British investment. But independent India has grown far faster. From the facts of increasing wars, poverty and inequality, he deduces that there is still too little movement of capital and labour. He complains that workers are generally too well paid and leisured, and that the costs of Medicare and Social Security threaten to capsize the US economy. Ferguson is the flash Harry of contemporary history-writing, cavalier with the facts, crude in his views and contemptuous of most of the world¿s peoples. His book is one long, unsuccessful, attack on the democratic right of national independence.
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