This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

Marc-William Palen
History Department, University of Exeter
Follow on Twitter @MWPalen

From how Latin America reimagined classical political economy to asking who is responsible for Afghanistan’s tragedy, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

How Latin America Reimagined Classical Economics

Nicola Miller
Boston Review

As disillusionment with neoliberalism has grown over the last decade, many have called for an alternative vision of political economy—one that rejects market fundamentalism, embraces a notion of the public good, and remains sensitive to the way politics, economics, and ethics are deeply intertwined. In this effort to imagine new futures, it can be helpful to return to neglected resources of the past, and one striking example of vibrant economic thinking comes from Latin America in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

This rich legacy is often obscured by a mistaken assumption. The conventional account has it that classical political economy (CPE)—with its emphasis on self-regulating markets, free trade, and the pursuit of individual self-interest—was the dominant approach in Latin America from independence until after World War II, when new ways of thinking about development economics, pioneered by Argentine Raúl Prebisch and others in the 1950s, displaced the old paradigm. This standard story points out that in the late nineteenth century Adam Smith and David Ricardo were widely cited by Latin American authors, that John Stuart Mill’s Principles of Political Economy (1848) became a bible of economic wisdom, and that the idea of comparative advantage became naturalized. Laissez faire governments of the time parroted the theory, we are told, and allowed the proceeds of primary product exports to accumulate in the hands of a minority, with little concern for the rest of the economy. If industrialization took place—and economic historians have found more and more of it, earlier and earlier—it was despite, not because, of any deliberate policy, let alone a theory. [continue reading]

Cash Rules: How we pay for democracy

Jan-Werner Müller

The title of Julia Cagé’s The Price of Democracy will prompt Americans to think of the obscene cost of their elections. The amount spent on the 2020 federal races is said to have been a staggering $14 billion (more than twice the price tag for 2016). State elections consumed close to $2 billion. Almost 90 percent of the House candidates who spent the most money ended up winning. Cagé, a French economist affiliated with the elite university Sciences Po in Paris, has plenty of critical things to say about campaign finance in the United States, but her main point goes further. Democracy, she writes, is never free—not in the United States, and not in the rest of the world. But we have yet to figure out who should pay for what in a system founded on the notion of political equality.

In The Price of Democracy, Cagé offers us a deeply researched account of how states regulate campaign finance. Comparing countries as varied as India and Belgium, she finds that even the seemingly more egalitarian democracies have failed to do so successfully. In response, she proposes an attractive alternative that puts the financial responsibility for democracy squarely in the hands of citizens: a publicly funded voucher scheme that allows individuals to support their preferred candidates and parties, combined with severe restrictions on all private donations. [continue reading]

The Black Reporter Who Exposed a Lie About the Atom Bomb

William J. Broad
New York Times

“Loeb Reflects On Atomic Bombed Area,” read the headline in The Atlanta Daily World of Oct. 5, 1945, two months after Hiroshima’s ruin. In the world of Black newspapers, that name alone was enough to attract readers. Charles H. Loeb was a Black war correspondent whose articles in World War II were distributed to papers across the United States by the National Negro Publishers Association. In the article, Mr. Loeb told how bursts of deadly radiation had sickened and killed the city’s residents. His perspective, while coolly analytic, cast light on a major wartime cover up.

The Page 1 article contradicted the War Department, the Manhattan Project, and The New York Times and its star reporter, William L. Laurence, on what had become a bitter dispute between the victor and the vanquished. Japan insisted that the bomb’s invisible rays at Hiroshima and Nagasaki had led to waves of sudden death and lingering illness. Emphatically, the United States denied that charge. But science and history would prove Mr. Loeb right. His reporting not only challenged the official government line but also echoed the skepticism of many Black Americans, who, scholars say, worried that race had played a role in the United States’ decision to drop the experimental weapons on Japan. Black clergy and activists at times sympathized openly with the bomb’s victims. [continue reading]

La Voix de la France, the colonial shortwave radio station of the Vichy regime

Radio in the Days of the TSF

After the first tests at the beginning of August, made up of news in French and non-stop music, it was on August 17, 1941 that the Vichy government, after having had the authorization of the German authorities, inaugurated its service on shortwave. exterior called La Voix de la France . The editorial staff of the radio station is first of all housed in a small room on the fourth floor of the British hotel (yes, a strange address for an Anglophobic radio station), the headquarters of the Colonial Office. 

She will later settle in two rooms of the Cécil-Hôtel, 13 boulevard de Russie, that is to say at the headquarters of the National Broadcasting Corporation., in the immediate vicinity of the Hôtel du Parc, the heart of power. The studio is located in a corner (a portion of the corridor of the second balcony) of the Vichy casino then the signal is transmitted to the short wave station of Allouis near Vierzon in the occupied zone. [continue reading]

The United States and China are locked in a Cold Peace

Fareed Zakaria
Washington Post

Tensions between the United States and China have risen substantially. The Trump tariffs remain firmly in place. Washington is searching for ways to limit the spread of Chinese technology companies while giving funds to U.S. firms. China is trying to curtail its vulnerability to the United States’ long reach. In this atmosphere, one might imagine that trade between the two countries has plummeted. In fact, it recently reached an all-time high.

Welcome to the strange new world we live in. China and the United States are becoming more adversarial toward one another in every way and yet they are both part of a global economy that is deeply interdependent and has a dynamic of its own. Tensions rise but so does trade. It’s not just with the United States. China and Australia have seen growing disputes, attacks and counterattacks. Last year, China publicly aired 14 grievances with Australia and warned it not to “make China the enemy.” And yet, Chinese purchases of Australian goods recently hit a record high. [continue reading]

Who is responsible for Afghanistan’s tragedy? Is it Russia, US or Pakistan?

Pervez Hoodbhoy

In his latest interview to PBS NewsHour, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan correctly said the United States “really messed it up in Afghanistan” and he also rightly questioned America’s motive for invading Afghanistan. In a second interview with Afghan media, he denied that Pakistan speaks for the Taliban. This too is technically true. But to keep one’s moral compass straight, one must acknowledge that it was not just America that messed up. Other countries, particularly Pakistan, also helped create the Afghan tragedy.

Let us return to when the Soviet Union was supposedly eyeing the “warm waters of the Persian Gulf”, a ubiquitous phrase of the late 1970s. After the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in December 1979, it was said that Pakistan was next in line. For Ronald Reagan, the Evil Empire and its godless, atheistic communists were on the move; they must be stopped. Agreed, said Former Pakistan President General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, else Pakistan and Islam would be mortally endangered. [continue reading]