Author Archives: Eric Rauchway

July 19, 2012, 8:30 pm

Some notes on Keynes’s 1919 “grand scheme for the rehabilitation of Europe”.

I mentioned in my previous post that Keynes, in April 1919, put forward a plan for the financial rehabilitation of Europe. Here is how it was supposed to work:

Germany would issue bonds, at a present value of £1 billion. (That’s a US billion.) They would pay 4% p.a. and have a 1% sinking fund to retire the debt beginning in 1925.

Most of the money raised from the bond issue would go to the Allies for reparations – something like seventy percent. Much of the remainder would stay in the hands of the German government, dedicated to a special fund for reconstruction.

Why would anyone buy the bonds? The securities had several safeguards. First, they would have priority over all other German obligations. Second, other enemy nations would guarantee them jointly and severally. Third, in the event of a default, the League of Nations would impose a penalty, or forfeiture, of “a…

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July 17, 2012, 12:39 am

There ought to be an opera about Keynes at Versailles.

John Maynard Keynes had such a long and influential career that it seems incredible it should have started with such a dismal failure – his effort to prevail upon the peacemakers at Paris in 1919. But it is a remarkable story, even a tragedy; Keynes at Versailles would make a superb play, or even opera (I’m thinking along the lines of Einstein on the Beach or Nixon in China.)

Keynes was only thirty-six when he went with the British delegation to Paris as the chief representative of the Treasury. Before arriving he had prepared memoranda on the question of extracting reparations from the Germans. In his first, of 10/31/18, he developed two estimates for an indemnity payment – one “with crushing Germany” and one “without crushing Germany.” He recommended the lower one – the one “without crushing Germany” – not because he had any particular sympathy for the conquered enemy but because,…

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July 13, 2012, 5:05 pm

To disappointment – and beyond! with President Obama.

This blog expected Barack Obama to disappoint us, and he did not disappoint in his capacity for disappointment. The original source of our predicted unhappiness with the President was his indifference to Americans’ civil liberties. He’s gone well beyond that now. Tom Junod here lays out the moral case against the President’s drone war. James Joyner already made the practical case. Junod follows up. Also, the drones are in the water now. And the linked article posits the existence of “drone lovers.” O brave new world.

July 10, 2012, 9:28 pm

Margin Call’s tacit tribute to the New Deal.

I loved Jeremy Irons’s performance in Margin Call, and not only because of John Tuld’s final monologue – which is in turn brilliant not only because it contains a tacit arithmetic tribute to the New Deal that undermines the thrust of what he’s saying.

In the list of dates, following 1797, the longest stretch without one of these crises is from 1937 to 1974 – the period of the New Deal’s sway over banking, finance, monetary and fiscal policy.1 Which undermines Tuld’s subsequent suggestion that there’s nothing we can do about it.

1He also misses 1873 and 1893, I think.

July 9, 2012, 8:25 pm

“Interracial unity. Pro-Roosevelt unity.” On boogie-woogie Democrats.

The Milwaukee Journal of 10/25/44 reported,

Nonpartisan [sic] stars of the revue were Miss Mary Lou Williams, a Negro jazz pianist, and her hot jive quartet. Jamming on such noncontroversial themes as “Lady Be Good,” the quartet turned the show into a convention of rug cutters. Later in the show Mary Lou played her own number, “Ballot Box Boogie in the Key of Franklin D.,” which was musically satisfying but, politically, no Gettysburg address.

One might be tempted to award this round to Lincoln, but: Roosevelt did have people composing boogie-woogie and setting up barnstorming variety show tours.

Ms. Williams’s performance was, apparently, part of the “FDR Victory Bandwagon,” a program paid for by promoter Edward Royce.

Mr. Royce, who is a local art dealer, has had this idea for a long time. Last spring he experimented with it by putting on a show up in Harlem to help…

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July 9, 2012, 3:29 pm

Footnotes to defuse fascism.

The Chronicle has an article by Paul Hockenos about the forthcoming annotated edition of Mein Kampf, the first edition to be (legally) published in Germany since the end of World War II. It sounds from the interviews as though the annotators want their scholarly apparatus to go beyond the usual service of providing helpful points of reference to the reader, and actually to argue against Hitler – “Mein Kampf is like a rusty old grenade. We want to remove its detonator … We intend to defuse the book. This way it will lose its symbolic value and become what it really is: a piece of historical evidence—nothing more” – although it’s hard to tell, inasmuch as there are no examples, just comments from people involved or interested in the project.

But suppose it were so: is there another example of a book that could or should get a sort of scholarly fisking edition, pointing out that the…

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July 5, 2012, 6:56 pm

A physician on curing us of irritation with the liberal arts.

Longtime reader, occasional commenter Chris Johnson gives me permission to quote from his email:

I do feel discouraged by this recent onslaught against the liberal arts. I appreciate and applaud the light you and your colleagues have shone on the recent travesty at the U of VA, as only one example of this trend. Academic historians need to bang that gong as loud as they can.

I graduated from Haverford College in 1974 with a double major in history and religion. I went on to medical school, and my dean there had been a Rhodes Scholar in one of the humanities. Fully half of my Haverford classmates majored in one or another of the humanities and then scattered across their business and professional careers. This is a wonderful thing, and was once regarded as a wonderful thing. But a similar craze in medical education for “practicality” has changed things such that many, many students …

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June 29, 2012, 8:43 pm

Megan McArdle calls someone an “economic idiot.”

Megan McArdle is advising “liberals” that they “shouldn’t defend FDR’s attacks on the Court.” Any “liberals” who would take advice from Megan McArdle are probably not very bright, but there is so much misinformation in McArdle’s post it seems worth a little time to clear it up.

McArdle executes a pivot classic to the anti-New Dealer playbook: facing Andrew Sullivan writing that “the Court tried to sabotage the New Deal under Roosevelt,” McArdle responds, “it’s bad economics. The NRA wasn’t going to save America, and we should be glad that the Court put it to rest.”

Did you notice that? Sullivan was talking about “the New Deal,” and McArdle immediately starts talking about “the NRA.” You see this a lot, anti-New Dealers reducing the New Deal to the NRA. That’s because if you’re an anti-New Dealer, you have a big problem: the New Deal was, and remains, popular. Its most important…

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June 22, 2012, 5:06 pm

Some notes on Woodrow Wilson and the underappreciated harms Presidents can do.

Regular readers will know we frequently give time and attention to the best of presidents, with special regard to the underrated Franklin Roosevelt. But perhaps we should give equal time to the bad presidents whose badness goes insufficiently remarked – not just the mediocre presidents, but those whose harms go underappreciated.

Entirely coincidentally, I have an essay in the current Reviews in American History on Woodrow Wilson, apropos Cooper’s biography. Here’s the beginning of the essay, for the record:

In the 1912 election, the Democrats gained sixty-one seats to increase their majority in the House of Representatives and seven seats to get a majority in the Senate. Yet their presidential candidate, Woodrow Wilson, won fewer votes than William Jennings Bryan had in 1908, 1900, or 1896. Wilson also underperformed Democrats in Massachusetts, Ohio, Illinois, and elsewhere,…

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June 18, 2012, 5:18 pm

FDR: not the antichrist.

(Another in an irregularly produced series)

Matthew Avery Sutton, “Was FDR the Antichrist? The Birth
of Fundamentalist Antiliberalism in a Global Age,” Journal of American History 98, no. 4 (March 2012): 1052-1074.

When and why did white evangelical Christians, or fundamentalists, become categorically opposed to American liberalism?

There is a journalistic rule that all headlines that ask questions are properly answered “no,” and this article is no exception; even to white evangelical Christians, it turns out, FDR was not the antichrist. According to Sutton, they thought he was moving in that direction, though.

This article fits in with the discovery that modern conservatism predates not only the alleged overreach of liberalism in the 1960s or early 1970s, but also World War II. As Sutton says, “As the actions of…

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June 15, 2012, 4:38 pm

On Scalzi’s Redshirts and historical narrative.


John Scalzi‘s Redshirts is great fun, and honestly, I read it because I expected it to be great fun, and I got what I expected. But it also made me think seriously about how historians handle narrative.

It is no spoiler to say that the book is about the peripheral characters who, in Star Trek, get killed to advance the plot – or really, not even to advance the plot, just to give a sense of great stakes to the story. Kirk, Spock, Chekhov and some random crewperson in a red shirt beam down to the planet. The person in the red shirt – the redshirt – is going to get killed, because they’re expendable and we need to know how deadly the threat is this week. The poor redshirts aren’t people, they’re cannon fodder – not for the Enterprise, mind you, but for the script-writers. Even if their details get filled out a bit, it’s only in the service of giving their deaths greater…

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June 14, 2012, 10:57 pm

Not so post-racial, this nation.

Seth Stephens-Davidowitz has a fascinating bit of research into the effect of racism on the vote for Barack Obama:

… many Americans use Google to find racially charged material. I performed the somewhat unpleasant task of ranking states and media markets in the United States based on the proportion of their Google searches that included the word “nigger(s).” This word was included in roughly the same number of Google searches as terms like “Lakers,” “Daily Show,” “migraine” and “economist.”

A huge proportion of the searches I looked at were for jokes about African-Americans. (I did not include searches that included the word “nigga” because these searches were mostly for rap lyrics.) I used data from 2004 to 2007 because I wanted a measure not directly influenced by feelings toward Mr. Obama. From 2008 onward, “Obama” is a prevalent term in racially…

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June 14, 2012, 4:46 am

New students for an Orwellian tomorrow.

Seen on campus.

June 12, 2012, 6:05 pm

Does David Brooks just pick dates out of a hat?

From the howling vacuum that is David Brooks’s historical consciousness escapes this gem:

Vast majorities of Americans don’t trust their institutions. That’s not mostly because our institutions perform much worse than they did in 1925 and 1955, when they were widely trusted.

Let’s pass swiftly over 1955, when our institutions were so trusted that vast swathes of the unReconstructed South decided they could disobey the Supreme Court, a state of affairs that would last until the Great Golfer sent the 101st Airborne (late of Normandy) to liberate Little Rock, and say uncomprehendingly to ourselves, 1925? When the nation realized that agents of the Doheny and Sinclair petroleum concerns were delivering cash and livestock to the Secretary of the Interior in exchange for favorable considerations? When Americans so trusted their institutions that they were defying federal law on a …

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June 12, 2012, 1:18 am

On liberalism and history, and Kazin and Alterman & Mattson.

Not to pile on, but there’s also this, in the new Democracy. Unlike the aforementioned TLS essay, the whole thing is online; here’s a short excerpt:

The single moment that made postwar liberalism feel most like a cause worth fighting for came in the darkness of April 4, 1968, when an Indianapolis crowd, assembled to hear Robert F. Kennedy campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, instead met a man obliged to tell them that Martin Luther King Jr. had been murdered. When Kennedy broke the news, a desperate wail burst from the throats of those gathered, a sound unlike any other, bespeaking the tide of anguish and anger about to rush over the republic, sweeping reason before it—but not yet, or not here, not if Kennedy had his way.

Speaking off the cuff, he claimed a shared sorrow—his own brother had been killed in the line of political duty, at a time when he had begun…

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