- Religion and Philosophy
If You Can't Fight 'Em
Faberge Vase at the NYSE
What this does not mean is conversion to Islam, only its acceptance, on a level no one wants to either contemplate or encourage right now. It also entails the formation of a new blend of different beliefs and forms of worship, which happens anyways. I am composing this hub on my own, in my own way, which, not surprisingly, if you know something about me, or have read a few of my articles, is almost entirely literary. Yes, I hide behind books. I am reading perhaps not too carefully or critically, but in this fashion I manage to include about four different points of view. One is already beginning to age, though its main idea, also the title, The End of Poverty, ought never to lose its appeal. The author makes large matters seem simple, if time-consuming, requiring both brains and brawn. One learns how both Russia and Poland changed from a Communist economy to a Market economy, as though in one fell swoop. Then, turn the page, and India is fully modernized. Actually, it becomes apparent, looking back on the 90s, that the nations, as well as the author, who did not merely philosophize about fighting poverty, had historical momentum on their side. The world wanted it. Russia, or what was left of the USSR, is a large nation, but Poland was first in line to lead the revolt. The latter had enormous inflationary pressures to deal with, the former a great deal of confusion, such as fifteen different kinds of currency, all called rubles.
The Professor of Economics, affiliated with the UN, now at the Earth Institute, then goes on to China and Africa. His memoirs harken back to the end of the 20th, beginning of the 21st century, already out-of-date. Another professor, with a multi-national background, consisting of schooling in the old Soviet Union, Jordan, and the U.S., makes the odd case of supplanting the failures of Capitalism with the successes of Islamism. It is a strange argument, to say the least, and not particularly well-written in the author's second or third language. But its emphasis on feeding the poor, according to Mohammad, which is consonant with the exact same edict in both the Old and New Testaments, makes more sense today than ever. The second author claims that the invisible hand of Adam Smith, which controls and guides a free economy, has imperceptibly transformed into a virtual hand (my description based on the book's repeated analogy to computers, highlighting virtual memory). That is to say, the hand (called something else by George Carlin) is getting more faint. True enough, Capitalism has never been able to eliminate hunger, want, and disease. One can easily say, no economy does that, and it would be right. But the Middle Eastern economist has an unusual perspective, quoting Ben Bernanke in 2008, who saved Bear Stearns, not only because of the financial system, but "the real economy", too. Are there, then, two, parallel economies?
This interests me since it has been my understanding that if all investors suddenly pulled out of the stock and bond market the "real economy", assuming such a distinction, would be set back hundreds of years. Without the "financial system", if you like, how would a building get built, a factory, bridge, or gasoline pumped at a filling station? Of course, the 1% could privately underwrite everything, but the 99% would then live at their mercy, as was the case during ancient despotism. I hasten to add, however, that bringing what we think of as the economy -- that noisy thing that hustles and bustles, yells and screams, and meanders and drifts -- to a complete standstill, might not be so bad. The current, laissez faire, global version, that, only a handful of years ago, was regarded as something of a miracle, has not created a safer, healthier, more tolerating world. Further, our own citizens are constantly being hoodwinked by politicians touting old-fashioned virtues that will not avert the economic catastrophes that surely await us in the near future. Or, to put it another way, the Pharoah might have whipped all his slaves to death without ever having constructed a pyramid that truly worked (not really knowing what they were supposed to do).
Worship at the Hujrah in El-Medinah
The Hujrah along the Faithful Pilgrim's Way
Above is a photograph that could not be taken so easily by Sir Richard Burton (my 3rd author) -- probably in Daguerreotype -- who describes his arrival at the Hujrah in A Pilgrimage to Meccah and Medinah. The description comes from 1853. According to the author, "The general consensus of El-Islam admits the superiority of the Bayt Allah ("House of God") at Meccah to the whole world; and declares El-Medinah to be more venerable than every part of Meccah, and consequently all the earth, except only the Bayt Allah." He then continues, writing: "In the meanwhile the Meccans claim unlimited superiority over the Madani: the Madani over the Meccans." Some arguments go on forever. Which is holier, Meccah or Medinah, the inhabitants therein of the former, or the latter? In any case, the verbally pictorial view, penned humbly by the author, gives a palatable sense of the ecstasy from having reached the Hujrah after leaving Cairo, then traveling by boat, foot, ass, and dromedary. Exposed to the elements, thievery, and threats of murder and kidnapping, Burton and his companions sincerely offer thankful prayers. What this has to do with economics is difficult to discern, except that the second professor insists Islam fell because the Islamic lost track of their identity. He therefore stresses the need to resurrect Shariah, controlled by eminent scholars, who know how it is to be derived from the Koran. It hardly requires comment that Shariah, as currently employed, or understood -- totally out of whack, or what has come down to us as Radical Islam -- will not do.
Interestingly, the unusual two-volume recording of an annual pilgrimage raises the issue of conversion. The most salient Islamic conversion that comes to my mind is that of Sabbatai Zevi. During the 1600s he was hailed Messiah by fervid groups of followers. In the end, he converted to Islam at Constantinople. A Wikipedia contributor suggests the Sultan's ultimatum motivated Zevi to make a practical decision. But who knows? His was not an outgoing, extroverted, self-aggrandizing personality. He was, in fact, point man for more aggressive rabbis. Naturally, one has to delve into the historical background of the time, while infamous Polish massacres, for instance, led by Chmielnicki, a total brute, were taking place. Islam also has in its theology a Mahdi, or Messianic personage, who co-exists with the Messiah in the End Days. Some believe the sitting President of the United States has fulfilled this expectation by warding off calls to both fight and destroy Islam. All in all, it hardly matters how conversion happens, if it happens. Converts should be aware, however, there might be no way back. Islamic history provides credible evidence of changes-of-heart being dealt with harshly. They are put to death.
Hindu School in Kolkata, formerly Calcutta
It Does Not Have to be Islamic
Nor does it have to be welfare. The point is to develop a better system, save lives, and cure the disease-stricken. We know Communism is over and done with. The second professor goes into this chapter of history, too. But Capitalism has changed so drastically it might only continue to be called Capitalism for lack or fear of another, more accurate name. A recent Foreign Affairs essay, by Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson, emphasizes the larger role of government. For example, technology developed by the government was used by Steve Jobs to jumpstart Apple. Instead of Capitalism, we have, according to the journalists (4th author[s]), a Mixed Economy. In any case, just think. If the Dow fell to 41.22 in July, 1932, the second professor's analytical terms, real and virtual, must be taken seriously. In 1929, everyone "in the game" agreed that prices had increased too sharply too fast. The virtual market shot up well over 100% while the actual economy rose 15% or so. This permanent discrepancy is not what we are accustomed to hear with a Dow above 18,000. It is nothing short of heavenly. Thus, we can lament the loss of $5 trillion during the dot com or internet debacle of '02. The second professor then goes on to describe what was known in '08 as a "meltdown", involving the loss of $15 trillion. From the point of view of an amateur, since I am not a professional, the fact that we are closing in on $20 trillion in debt may not mean what we think it does. It is part of a partly virtual scenario, not evocative of real, true, tangible money that, today, we only use sparingly upon rarer and rarer occasions.
The Islamic Professor's terminology surely brings out an important fact around which there is no circumnabulation. That is to say, the difference between virtual and real value can be as much as ninety percent. Companies have gone out of business altogether simply because executives exercised their stock option perks. Other companies, no matter how sizable, have been deliberately ruined by experts, who fire employees, rip-off stockholders, then sell off valuable assets left over. Thus, virtual value holds water only if stockholders are discouraged from selling, which is the case at hand. Should they prefer to turn shares into cash, assured of liquidity by stockbrokers and financial advisers, the stock in question can precipitously plummet. If enough shareholders sell, panic ensues, and the company's value, real or imagined, quickly and painfully dwindles. It will be nowhere near its former price. Another source of prevention is the accompanying fact that shares are sold by relatively small stockholders in lesser or greater volume, limited either way, so that they do not impact prices significantly. The notion of a fixed market manipulated by large investors is understandable, especially as to why watchdogs might chance to look the other way.
In brief, banks, which produced the housing bubble, the subject of the movie, The Big Short, have now created a stock market bubble. Sounds bad, but houses and stocks are indeed different. Mortgages must be paid, stocks merely bought. The situation might not be as portentous as it seems. To be sure, Trump has a far better grasp of complex, up-to-date, fiscal-related analytics than the average citizen, who is probably worried. The Democrats lag a bit behind, still declaiming how rich and invulnerable America is. As a consequence, more and more from the bottom ranks can be grandstanded, empowered, and cordially invited to partake of a tremendous treasure-trove that simply does not exist, or, whose days are numbered. What does the Islamic Professor propose? Naturally, a second, perhaps fiercer rise in Islam, following the last, which endured for thirteen centuries, until its decline and collapse in the early 1920s. To be sure, when Islam originally strode forth to conquer, it also, generally speaking, produced a culture of prosperity. With all due respect, it does not appear that what is happening today promises a second, resurgent wind that will bring godly blessings to everyone everywhere.
Sword of King Arthur
You Can Also Join and Fight 'Em
Things are so crazy at the moment that now is not the time. But it should become apparent, if it has not already, that terrorism is incompatible with Islam. Terrorism, by the way, can be fought. It is an agonizing type of war that will most likely take an enormous amount of time. It is going to unhappily run up against trace elements of Islam exaggerated by those who will use the same as cover and camouflage. Were I in power at the top, I would honor drastic suggestions, such as moving out whole civilian populations, but not necessarily to Europe, where further trouble could be fomented. Distant sanctuaries might or might not work, but the idea is to remove human shields, who are at risk in a very untidy war with no uniforms, rules of engagement, or soldierly conventions. All the main enemy has is that stupid flag for us to contemptuously view on TV. Their fighters are truly sick. As to how long it will take for peaceful Muslims to recognize them for what they are, no one can tell. The second professor, you see, is fundamentally wrong, however intriguing. Islam will not necessarily spread. Not that much. In fact, when the smoke clears, it might have shrunk, if anything, or be forced back to the lines of demarcation that once enveloped it. This, at any rate, is the oppositional thinking, which, to be honest, represents the vast majority.
Much lies ahead. The first professor, whom I have accidentally given short shrift, speaks more of stopping the daily death of Africans from AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis. Perhaps temporary refugees could help? At some point, the grand talkfest will reach its peak and trail off. Hopefully, it will subside in stages. Let's be real. Many Muslims will be killed, some having nothing to do with terrorism. In addition, groups like ISIS are international and extremely dangerous. Their European and, alas, American allies, too, will be targeted. I could search my soul all day, all night, and not be able to come up with niceties to say about what must, in a biblical phrasing, surely come to pass. Up till now, not much has been done to defend the major faith, Christianity, or others, too, too numerous to mention. Let's be even more real. We are not apt to quietly become Muslims overnight. Still, whatever we are, we can re-affirm our unity. Many Islamic ideas are universal and need never be known as partisan. We will, in fact, be "stronger together" and, at the same time, "make America great again", if we but have the resolve to push back terrorists and eliminate terror.
Fight or Flight?
Should We Start Another Crusade?
The Federal Reserve Reports
No Mention of Terror
I would merely make the observation and leave it at that. In truth, I am not sure what its intentional avoidance means since the Fed fights inflation not masked men with AK-47s. But to return to the main topic, the Islamic professor cannot be easily dismissed. The early American separation of church and state was a great idea. It worked for centuries. It is not as effective now, if we can also say that the best way to fight bad religion is with good religion. If it is any consolation, Islam is divided, too. In fact, the second professor himself mentions how staggering the difference in per capita income in Kuwait is from that of Egypt. Matching religions up against one another like armies is not appealing. This kind of talk, no doubt, sounds a bit funny -- although the term, "faith-based", had its champions. All the same, terrorists are unaffected by job creation or low interest rates. I am tempted to close by saying, th-th-that's all, folks, only because the notion of a robust economy in the midst of a world sown with relentless terror is truly looney tunes.