Sunday 15 November 2020

Book review: POB

PXL_20201115_204821890 I've just finished re-reading "The Surgeon's Mate", which is the last in my cyclic re-read of the entire Patrick O'Brian Aubrey-Maturin series, which started with "The Ionian Mission". I haven't read The Final Unfinished Voyage of Jack Aubrey (and don't intend to) and indeed Blue at the Mizzen feels somewhat unfinished to me. This is about the third time I've read them: the first in some kind of order as we found them (possibly prompted by a review of The Wine-Dark Sea when we were in Stevenage many years ago), then in some other order; and now again.

To get some criticism out of the way: all the characters, and sometimes the text, say "very true". There is a good deal of repetition, if you read all the books. This is almost inevitable - the holystoning of the decks and the rhythm of life on the ship need to be in each book to make it self contained, but is the same in each. It's almost like Homer's "wine-dark" for the sea, except Homer only does it for phrases. I coud live without the repetition of cur-tailed though. But there's a lot of good, dry, humour. Of the plots, on the re-read, what becomes somewhat tedious is the necessity for JA to lose all his fortune on a cyclical basis; had he continued a smooth rise, he would have been - as he himself says at some points - the captain of a 74 which would have been dull; and POB has to perform some gyrations to get him back into frigates.

The evocation of the time appears good, and I don't think I can ask much more or judge it. I have been to Port Mahon in a family holiday many years ago; I could wish I'd had these book available then, to add colour. The stories I say are good: quite uniformly so, none are poor; either POB was very good or he was most diligent in the archives. At first (as wiki says) the years pass by quite quickly. Then POB realises he has a good thing on his hands, but can't turn back the clock, so time has to become elastic.

JA loves the service, and presumably POB did too after reading and writing so much; and so we have sometimes a defence of the various less desireable features: impressment-aka-slavery most notably. This is mostly not successful, other than "it is a hard service" and the general tenor of the times. Most striking is the harsh punishment meted out to the common sailors compared to the kid-gloves treatment the officers get. JA is complicit in this, in that he gives or causes to be given ships to people manifestly not fit to command and who he knows will oppress the crew; but his eternal excuse is that he is bound by precedence. That said, I can easily believe it was better than shore life for those with a tolerable captain.

SM, at various periods, is addicted to laudanum, to coca-leaves, to whatever. He muses on this, but to no great effect; it may simply be more grist for the story. Does POB have anything to say, in all this? Almost entirely he is only telling a story, I think, together with a certain nostalgia for those days; and perhaps a recommendation for us to consider re-adoption of some of their ways.

Towards the end, Bonden is suddenly killed. This seems a touch abrupt; perhaps POB needed to show that people near JA could die as well as incidental characters. And Bonden hadn't really developed much, other than learning to write: he remained the omni-competent omni-cheerful lower-deck sailor. Killing Diana was also abrupt, as was SM's rebounding to Christine; but again, DV had become a touch boring. Perhaps POB wanted to wander off further into biology.

Of the two chief characters, by the end of the books both have become omni-competent in their own fields, perhaps implausibly so. At various points in the books it is necessary for JA's ships to run aground or suffer some disaster; but this is invariably the fault of some subordinate. And sometimes events have to occur: Chilean independence cannot happen out of sequence, so that whole plot has to fail rather abruptly, the fault neatly being placed on overly democratic followers of Rousseau.

Image: the POB-shelf, with - to show my literary credentials - Proust to the right. Bottom right, LeGuin to C S Lewis; left, the incomparable Divine Endurance and Flowerdust; top left Pratchett and Pullman, trending into Ransome and Potter.

Incidentally, having read POB, I read some C S Forester expecting to find it disappointing; but it was not.

Thursday 5 November 2020

Howard Zinn: A People's History of the United States

PXL_20201105_212122054 A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn0 is the price I pay for getting CIP to read TOSAIE. And well worth it, I'm sure. I've got the dead tree edition, with the cover design by some clown who doesn't understand symmetry or balance; not an omen at all.

[Wanna read it yourself? Someone has OCRed it at which gives you some hint as to its biases.]

Following CIPs lead, this will be something of a chapter-by-chapter reading, which is probably a good idea because if I read it all before writing anything I'll forget it all. Because that would be noisy on the main blog, it is happening here, but I'll post there when I'm done.

Wiki, as you'll notice, is not too keen on the book; but! Onwards; and so without more ado...

[See-also: part II]

Chapter 1: Columbus, The Indians, and Human Progress

Columbus, we are astonished to learn, was not a universally pleasant fellow; nor indeed was Cortez. This was written in 1980, but even so it seems odd that Zinn appears to think himself trail-blazing: the history books given to school children... there is no bloodshed... Past the elementary and high schools, there are only occasional hints of something else. This segues into discussing one author who does mention genocide, but not with enough emphasis for Zinn, which is neatly his cue to explain that he will be emphasising the people omitted from conventional histories.

There's an odd bit which I think is worth emphasising because I think it is going to be typical: talking of Cortez, and the Spanish hunger for gold, Zinn wonders What did people in Spain get out of all that death and brutality? Gold (as Zinn does not point out) is after all but a store of value or medium of exchange and has little intrinsic value; the Spaniards - or some of them - acquired the ability to spend more on things but not actually any more things, leading to inflation. But Zinn just wrings his hands and doesn't pursue the thought.

More interestingly, speaking of Cortez but applicable to the North too, Zinn wonders Beyond all that, how certain are we that what was destroyed was inferior? This is charmingly naive, implying that there is some kind of absolute standard that cultures can be measured against. Zinn points out that the natives were better at living off the land than the newcomers, and of course were much nicer1, leaving us to infer them perhaps superior; and indeed if that is your criterion, they were. My own view would be to regard that as largely irrelevant, and instead to note that a technologically less advanced people is inevitably going to get subjugated or destroyed or changed out of all recognition by one more advanced, with morality playing little role. This is exactly the kind of thinking that Zinn doesn't want to do. But even staying within Zinn-world, it is notable that Zinn makes no attempt to answer his question; he merely lists some characteristics of the natives, and presents you with some unpleasant actions of the invaders.

Chapter 2: Drawing the Colour Line

We all already know that slavery is bad, so there's not much scope for any overturning-of-conventional-wisdom type stuff here, and HZ doesn't attempt it, instead just going through the usual stuff: slavery was bad; yes the Africans sold slaves but having said that we'll draw no conclusions from it2, and anyway slavery as practiced in African was much nicer than American slavery. Also, did you know that the Church condoned slavery?

He begins with a stupid question: is it possible for whites and blacks to live together without hatred? The answer is "yes"; or perhaps the answer is "duh: call yourself a historian?"; so he stands revealed as desperately parochial. A little later he feels the need to worry about whether racism is a natural antipathy of white against black (he doesn't appear to worry about any natural black against white antipathy). I'm not sure why he feels this need; the answer is, obviously, no; other than the std.tribal antipathy or distrust of "outsiders"; alas HZ's margin is too small to note that replacing tribal loyalties with a more individualistic open society is one of the glories of, errm, the Open Society.

There's a reasonable amount about slaver rebellions and resistance, as befits someone who believes in the power of people, and doesn't want them just portrayed as oppressed; this seems reasonable.

Having noticed that slavery is not inevitable, he doesn't put much effort into wondering how it came about. I think - though I cannot be sure - that English law contained nothing about slavery pre-America; neither for or against; so it isn't clear how the legal provisions arose. Perhaps that they had, actually, been bought made them property? Law is custom so once slavery was an actual part of the economy the law would tend to flow around it. It is also odd that only blacks could be slaves... this is my modern mind that knows that all people are people not really being able to understand the thinking of the Olde Folke; although as part of the std dehumanise-your-enemies it is only too familiar today. HZ, keen on class conciousness, notes the way slavery naturally folds into racism: since they're slaves, there needs to be a good reason why you're allowed to oppress them if you want to think of yourself as a good person; and naturally that allows the poor whites to be superior to someone, at least, thereby salving them and binding them to the side of the rich whites.

Chapter 3: Persons of mean and Vile Condition

We're in the interval leading up to the Severance. As befits a struggling colony - anyone who has read the right Sci-Fi or played Civ will understand - conditions are grim and life for most is hard. Indeed, it isn't even clear why anyone finances the thing, the pay-back times are so long; the triumph of Hope or Vainglory perhaps. Various things happen - Bacon's rebellion for example - and the usual shifting forces of proles, elites, in-between and autochthons interact. At some points the elite want to be nicer - or perhaps less nasty - to the autochthons than the poor folk do, causing trouble.

The colony, of course, is being exploited by England, which retains a monopoly on the buying of tobacco. And yet, think (HZ will not, you'll have to do this for yourself): the colony wants to trade; it wants to buy stuff from Europe; of course it does, it cannot support itself on its own produce. HZ doesn't even think of doing the sums, but I suspect the colonies were overall a drain on England's resources during this period. There was an underclass of "miserably poor" white immigration; whether they bettered themselves or only their descendants is unclear; but they often bought their passage by indenture3. At various points HZ quotes the proportion of wealth owned by the top n percent. I think this amount declines over time; but he never compares.

HZ's emphasis is on class conflict. I think he overdoes it, but probably someone does have to provide an alternative to the all-in-it-together-against-the-British, as he says. HZ, keen on his polarised viewpoint, is not keen on the in-between classes, and I think this is a lack in his work. There's an interesting factoid that many Europeans ran off to join the Indians, but few went the other way.

Chapter 4: Tyranny is Tyranny

We're still leading up to the Separation. In HZ world:
Around 1776, certain important people in the English colonies made a discovery that would prove enormously useful for the next two hundred years. They found that by creating a nation, a symbol, a legal unity called the United States, they could take over land, profits, and political power from favorites of the British Empire. In the process, they could hold back a number of potential rebellions and create a consensus of popular support for the rule of a new, privileged leadership. When we look at the American Revolution this way, it was a work of genius, and the Founding Fathers deserve the awed tribute they have received over the centuries. They created the most effective system of national control devised in modern times, and showed future generations of leaders the advantages of combining paternalism with command.
This seems unreasonable; even interpreted as "a point of view". The views of a bitter man who lives in a living hell that mysteriously only he can see; a prophet crying in the wilderness. And yet James Otis, Samuel Adams, Royall Tyler, Oxenbridge Thacher, and a host of other Bostonians, linked to the artisans and laborers through a network of neighborhood taverns, fire companies, and the Caucus, espoused a vision of polities that gave credence to laboring-class views and regarded as entirely legitimate the participation of artisans and even laborers in the political process. So there is - well, somewhat paralleling developments in England - a general "democratisation" of who is allowed to take part in politics. Paine makes an appearance too. In various places it becomes clear that stirring up the mob is a dangerous thing, you can never tell where they'll end up. This has been true since the Athenians.

Update: I should add that I don't particularly doubt his assertion that the Revolution did largely leave the existing power structures intact below the top (that's the sort of thing you could see down to fine scale by looking at local land ownership and other such legal documents. I doubt that kind of detailed analysis is to HZ's taste, but we'll see when we get there). HZ seems disappointed by this, as though - looking back - he saw this as a glorious chance fluffed. But of course it wasn't; it was inevitable, and indeed better that way: just look at the Frogs, later.

Having quoted "We hold these truths to be self-evident..." HZ notes that Some Americans were clearly omitted from this circle of united interest drawn by the Declaration of Independence: Indians, black slaves, women. But that isn't really true; the text says "all men" and doesn't anywhere explicitly exclude slaves; likely, this was carefully done. Nor does it of itself exclude women; "men" can be read to include women, when convenient. In both cases what excluded these people was convention, what everyone knew to be obvious.

Chapter 5: A kind of revolution

We come to the revolution itself. Fans of military will be disappointed; the description of the actual conflict is but a short paragraph, mysteriously mostly American defeats until they mysteriously win. HZ is keen that we not think the revolution well supported: he begins by noting that although "much" of the white male population fought at some point, only "a small fraction" stayed. Yet he is curiously evasive about what much and small might amount to. He quotes a figure of 1/5 as actively treasonous but it isn't clear what this is 1/5 of; if of the total population, then it is probably most of the white males of fighting age. Astonishingly, while there was conscription, the rich could buy their way out. Although he complains about the tight discipline of the new army, this isn't really consistent with his talk of people dropping out, or what I've read elsewhere - TF's excepts from 1776 about the American forces. he briefly discusses the separation of church and state, but fails to distinguish church and religion, so can't say anything. Trying to prove that the revolution was run by the rich, he points out that Benjamin franklin was rich. Which he was; and yet this fails to credit his rise from poverty, because that sits ill with HZ's favourite narrative of a static society.

There's a rather blurred bit between the revolution and the Constitutional Convention, an I think that if you didn't already know it, you would be very confused. He mentions Shays' rebellion, but not that is was a stimulus for the CC. He thinks that lead to "strong" central govt but of course it did not: by the standards of today, the central govt lay lightly on the people. HZ doesn't like Madison's opposition to "an abolition of debts, [an] equal division of property" but this (as I said in the previous chapter) is a yearning after something that could never have been.

HZ notes correctly that the federalist papers see the govt structure erected as a bulwark against excess democracy; that they envisaged that the "better sort of people" would be running the place. He also notes correctly that the Constitution was a compromise between the slaveholding south and the north. There's an odd bit about freedom of contract, which fails to notice that it has recently - over the last century say - been greatly eroded. And more weird stuff about freedom of speech, of which he seems contemptuous.

Chapter 6: the Intimately Oppressed

Or, women were not treated equally. This is, obvs, unsurprising; and little here is particularly US-centric, so it's all a bit meh. It has to be there - HZ cares about all oppressed classes - but his heart isn't really in it. One sign of which is the timeline which stretches all the way out to 1850, whereas we're really only at the Constitution. If HZ has a theory of why women are oppressed, it is - of course - private property. There's a token piece of "the Zuni did it better" but this is short of details - presumably because the details are not known. One of the details is that the women owned the houses; HZ does not notice how this jars with his "private property" theory.

A few token quibbles: the constitution did not disenfranchise women (and more than it did slaves); convention, and what "everyone understood", did. As HZ notes, of the states's constitution only NY explicitly disenfranchised women. He writes that Paine "spoke out foe the equal rights of women" but this is either deliberate misdirection or carelessness: even the TP soc says in a somewhat embarrassed page Paine was a strong advocate for women's equal rights, but he did not promote it publicly. HZ allows himself some anachronistic rhetorical flourishes; asserting a theory that women were "separate but equal". This is the kind of thing you'll find in the worst bits of Plato, and not in Popper. It isn't clear if HZ thinks upper-class women are oppressed or not; mostly, he isn't interested in them.

In all of this he never thinks much about why this was so. Nowadays, we've abandoned - at least officially - the idea that women are inferior; why? We're no more moral, we're no cleverer. We have more experience, but they had long experience too. HZ notes - but only in small - "the practical need for women in a frontier society had produced some measure of equality" - and I think that's a start; I would continue into the usual observations about industrial civilisation making the only clear male virtue - greater strength - less useful; but HZ doesn't. Is it a theoretical matter: without kings, people seek for an axiomatic basis for society, for morality, and when you do that you find that gender has no role? It would be nice to think so, but I doubt it. But HZ largely confines himself to recitation.

What about the intersection of women and slavery? HZ notes that the 1840 anti-slavery conference (which was in London, but he's kinda short of material for this chapter) excluded women, though only after "fierce argument". Going the other way, there was a women's rights convention (which HZ curiously doesn't date, but I think was in 1848) which lead to a Declaration of Principles, echoing the DecOf Indep, including "We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men and women are created equal". So, they've explicitly included women along with the men, but what about the slaves?

Chapter 7: As long as the Grass Grows or Water Runs

The long sad tale of the native dispossession by invading whites. This is much more to HZ's taste than the revolution: there are pages and pages of descriptions pf lands slowly lost, treaties betrayed, natives set against natives, and so on. And yet, I know all this - not the details, of course, but the overall pattern; and what to me seems the obvious interesting question - could it have been any other way - never even occurs to HZ. So I will answer: no, it could not; as demonstrated by how it was elsewhere. A crucial aspect of all this was the law, which was grossly abused by the whites; which HZ doesn't really go into. What if, somehow, now , we were to encounter new land: we find it hard to ignore the law nowadays: perhaps it would be different.

Musing: suppose the autochthonous civilisation was indeed fine, noble and superior to ours, as HZ would have us think; nonetheless, it lacked one crucial point: resilience in the face of us. And so, just as the Darwinistic judgement on a species is its survival, so is it for a civilisation.

Chapter 8: We take Nothing by Conquest, Thank God

Or, the Mexican War or the Conquest of Texas and California, or whatever it is generally known as. In which HZ discovers the love of battle details that he mysteriously lost during the revolution. Historically, we're up to ~1845, which seems to me to have left quite a chunk of time skipped over, but maybe we'll be back to it later. Although HZ reaches a peak (I hope) of passive-aggressive disdain for the USA, he doesn't manage much in the way of sympathy for the Mexicans. And why should he? Trading Texas and parts West between two groups of conquistadors is not the stuff of noble myth. I'm hoping he'll come back and fill in the political bits about the USA realising it was going to have to expand to the Pacific, but maybe that's not his thing. The Gadsden Purchase4 is not mentioned. Oddly, there's nothing here about the evils done to the autochthons, perhaps that was all brunt out in chapter 7. Nor does he express any surprise at the good luck of the USA in facing so incompetent an opponent as Santa Anna. But perhaps it wasn't good luck? The South doesn't seem to have done much at producing competent leadership or demos. Was the conquest a Good Thing or a Bad Thing? HZ does not venture any judgement.

Chapter 9: Slavery without Submission, Emancipation without Freedom

More slavery; and the civil war. We begin:
The United States government's support of slavery was based on an overpowering practicality. In 1790, a thousand tons of cotton were being produced every year in the South. By 1860, it was a million tons. In the same period, 500,000 slaves grew to 4 million.
It is good that HZ realises that slavery was driven by practicality, not by any particular desire to do evil (later, he even notes that the capitalists were as unaffected by attitudinal prejudices as it is possible to be, which is the traditional defence of capitalism that the Woke can't cope with, but I don't think he takes it to heart). However, he isn't thinking clearly, or even reading his own numbers: in 70 years, slaves went up by a factor of ten, but production went up by a factor of a thousand. This immeadiately tells you (but not HZ) that something other than Nslaves is the most important factor; the most obvious candidate is tech, but characteristically he doesn't explore this. It is also an early pointer to the end of slavery, for those with eyes to see.

The civil war starts, rather abruptly in this telling, when Lincoln is elected: suddenly, the South secedes from the Union. Although this is preceded by some notes about unsuccessful slave revolts, still it doesn't feel like an adequate explanation of the causes. At one point, HZ tells us that Lincoln was able to distinguish from his "personal wish" and his "official duty". From the way HZ puts it, I think he intends it as a criticism; one feels that an HZ in power would not so distinguish; Trump-like, he would be unable to separate state from person. Needless to say5, this is bad.

Slavery was, with historical perspective, doomed in the long run. Could it have ended peacefully? HZ doesn't even consider this possibility, instead asserting "It would take either a full-scale slave rebellion or a full-scale war to end such a deeply entrenched system". But it isn't clear he was right.

After the war, slavery becomes illegal. However - and this is the bleedin' obvious bit - the slaves don't automatically get any land, and the same economic forces as were around before are still there. In the traditional way there are are half-hearted grants of land to some of them, as well as to some soldiers who fought in the war, but many of these are rapidly sold for cash; the system is not so easily changed.

We get the 14th and 15th amendments, which deal with race; but again there's the failure to deal with the meaning of language; "persons" should already cover race; by explicitly including race but not sex, suppression of female citizens is tacitly endorsed, as was the custom of the times. There's some feeling that post-war, the position of blacks improved, but these gains were perhaps clawed back later; I don't know how accurate this is.

Chapter 10: The Other Civil War

What other civil war? HZ doesn't name it, but if you've followed his interests so far you will not find it hard to guess. Though lestwe think him a conspiracist he notes that it was not devilishly contrived by some master plotters, it developed naturally out of the needs of the situation. Exactly so. A point he might with profit dwell upon somewhat more, since it bears on the situation. There's a weird bit where de Toqueville is quoted as astonished by the general equality of condition among the people; this of course cannot be allowed to stand, and is rebutted by his friend Beaumont's comment that deT is "not very good with numbers". WTF? This makes no sense at all. As usual (another point HZ might reflect on) there were enough class traitors: "a growing class of white-collar workers... paid enough to consider themselves members of the bourgeois class".

There's also a throwaway comment about an economic system not rationally planned for human need, which is indicative of HZ's thinking. He hasn't read Hayek so is unenlightened, and thinks an economy should be planned, which is an error. Unfortunately, all govt attempts to intervene in business that he cites were, he thinks bad; perhaps another thing to reflect on.

There was working-class dissatisfaction; from HZ's cites, it would appear to have been mostly ineffective or contained or diverted. Perhaps because they believed stuff like "all on arriving at adult age are entitled to equal property", which is probably not even sensible in theory, and certainly not in practice. Would they have done better with more realistic aspirations?

Things happen. There was a flour riot in 1837, and one third of the working class were without work. Other than noting that various crises occurred, HZ pursues no explanation for this; his is a people's history, not an economic one. In 1857 things have got so bad that, apparently, people were queuing up to go back to Europe. That's new to me, and it would have been interesting to know more. In 1877 there was a big strike that spread and HZ gets terribly excited but in the end it was all to no avail as they had no real aim.

But what of the West? The following year [1862] a Homestead Act was passed. It gave 160 acres of western land, unoccupied and publicly owned, to anyone who would cultivate it for five years. Anyone willing to pay $1.25 an acre could buy a homestead. Few ordinary people had the $200 necessary to do this: speculators moved in and bought up much of the land. Homestead land added up to 50 million acres. And yet - follow the link - wiki says nothing of the $1.25 an acre. It does mention a "small" $18 filing fee. Wiki tells me In all, more than 160 million acres (650 thousand km2; 250 thousand sq mi) of public land, or nearly 10 percent of the total area of the United States, was given away free to 1.6 million homesteaders; most of the homesteads were west of the Mississippi River. So was it free, or not? Possibly, HZ is describing something else - that instead of homesteading, you could buy land6 - but in his haste to condemn speculators he seems to have skimped significant detail; I'm not sure I can trust him, There are potentially-interesting bits about the evolution and partiality of the law7, but again I don't trust HZ and would rather read that from someone else.

Chapter 11: Robber Barons and Rebels

Here I rather lost patience with HZ, because I think his facts become too obviously unreliable, due to his hatred of his subject matter; and reading an alternative history of an America that didn't exist is fun if you're reading The Man in the High Castle but HZ is no novelist. And this is a shame, because the era is of interest.

We begin the chapter noting that the US was on "the greatest march of economic growth in human history"; and this is true: the growth in prosperity, though unevenly distributed, lifted almost all boats, in that famous phrase. HZ doesn't really analyse this: he notes some tech-related causes ("steam and electricity replaced human muscle" but has little to say of the law, or corporate or social structures, other than criticism. HZ then asserts that this was done "at the expense of" black, white, Chinese, European, and female labour. But this is nonsense. First, literally: these classes did not have a great deal of capital, so it could not be done at their expense. Second, they gained, though you wouldn't guess this from HZ. What he means perhaps is that they didn't get as much out of it as he and they might like. However, he does notice that unlike in Chapter 10, when apparently people were going back to Europe, now immigrants are flooding in from Europe and China. As one minor example, literacy increased. You might say "but the evil capitalists only did that because they needed a literate workforce" to which I'd reply "so what? They got to be literate, which is a benefit, who cares why".

The US found itself in possession of vast amounts of land, which it was not using productively or otherwise. HZ complains that railways got land for free. There's an interesting question: was this corruption (well it probably was involved, but I mean was it the main point) or was it just a good idea to get the land out of govt ownership and doing something? HZ doesn't consider this. He later notes (via a novel!) that late-movers West found that all land within 30 miles of railways had been claimed; this indicates the value of railways.

Let's get to some duff facts: J. P. Morgan: "During the war he bought five thousand rifles for $3.50 each from an army arsenal, and sold them to a general in the field for $22 each". Firstly, there's something very odd here: the army needed rifles in the field, but was unable to get them from the arsenal itself? It might even be worth $(22 - 3.50) for the transport and cutting through the bureaucracy. But more importantly, HZ's story is wrong: see wiki and the Hall Carbine AffairThe weapons, known as "Hall's Carbines", were purchased by arms dealer Arthur M. Eastman in a deal negotiated with James Wolfe Ripley, Brigadier General and head of the US Ordinance Bureau, in June 1861. Subsequently, Eastman agreed to sell the weapons to Simon Stevens for $12.50 each, if Stevens would provide financing in the amount of $20,000 to allow Eastman to complete the purchase from the government. Stevens quickly negotiated a sale to field general John C. Frémont for $22, promising to bore out the rifles to fifty-eight caliber. With the deal completed, Stevens obtained a loan of $20,000 from Morgan.

OK, that's only one duff fact, but I bet I could dig into the rest and find similar (see SO at the end). This is a good place to note that while HZ provides refs for each chapter, he provides no per-fact refs, so it's impossible to check his sources. There's a fair few bits of finance, wherein bankers mediate between govt and the market for bond or gold sales and - gasp - make a profit in the process. HZ tells us their profits, in millions of dollars, and presumably invites us to conclude that they were dark evil creatures profiting at the expense of everyone else. But he never makes any explicit argument; I can't tell if that's cowardice on his part, or just that he thinks the sin is so obvious he doesn't need to say it. But the reason isn't that he is just-a-historian-relating-facts10.

Let's look at "corporate personhood", an issue that tends to divide left and right. HZ is, I think, opposed (characteristically he doesn't say so: but from now on, I'm going to stop saying that, because it has become dull). I think he criticises "the argument that corporations were 'persons' and their money was protected by the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment". let us (unlike HZ) think about this for a moment. We agree, I hope, that the money of real persons is protected by due process: the govt may not take your money without due process; whether this is via the 14th or something more basic, the principle is uncontested. In which case, some version of this must be true of corporations: if you give your money to a corporation in exchange for shares, and the govt steals the money from the corporation, then your shares decline in value and the govt has effectively stolen it from you: hence, money in a corporation should be protected by due process. Whether you choose to label this corporate personhood or not, the right to due process remains8.

Back at HZ: just like the last chapter, inspirational strikes occur but the state survives.

Another duffness: although he talks about Standard Oil, he doesn't mention the breakup - presumably, that wouldn't fit his story. Indeed, he sez In 1895 the Court interpreted the Sherman Act so as to make it harmless9 - but it was used to breakup SO in 1911. And... WTF!?! HZ says directly In later years it would refuse to break up the Standard Oil and American Tobacco monopolies, saying the Sherman Act barred only "unreasonable" combinations in restraint of trade. But that's simply a bare-faced lie.

Chapter 12: the Empire and the People

The USA doesn't really have an empire; rather wisely - or by accident - they chose to go commercial rather than annexing countries. At least, mostly. However, there was around 1900 the problem of the decaying Spanish empire. Cuba was the obvious one, and - I didn't follow the details - with the rebels unable to dislodge the dagos the USS Maine conveniently blew up providing a causus belli, and then - quoting wiki, which explains it somewhat more clearly than HZ, After the Spanish–American War, Spain and the United States signed the Treaty of Paris (1898), by which Spain ceded Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Guam to the United States for the sum of US$20 million and Cuba became a protectorate of the United States. Cuba gained formal independence from the U.S. on 20 May 1902, as the Republic of Cuba. HZ's version doesn't even tell you that, at least formally, Spain ceded Cuba and so on. HZ's version for PR is "However, the Spanish-American war did lead to a number of direct annexations by the United States. Puerto Rico, a neighbor of Cuba in the Caribbean, belonging to Spain, was taken over by U.S. military forces" - spot the contradiction to wiki. The Philippines is similar... now I have wiki to guide me, I can see how carefully he avoids telling you the obvious truth.

Chapter 12 is about half way through, in terms of text and also in chapter numbers. So I'll stop this post, and write another for the second half. And I've started it, here.


* Growth, Not Equality: American history shows that expanding the economy benefits everyone by Amity Shlaes.


0. I knew nothing of Zinn when I wrote all this. Talk:Constitution of the United States offers some info.

1. Somewhat in the manner of Neil Young's Cortez the Killer: 

And the women all were beautiful
And the men stood straight and strong
They offered life in sacrifice
So that others could go on
Hate was just a legend
And war was never known
The people worked together
And they lifted many stones
And they carried them to the flat lands
But they died along the way
And they build up with their bare hands
What we still can't do today

Which is all nonsense, of course. "They offered life in sacrifice" in particular is close to the excuses that people make for Columbus.

2. If you believe his figures, the greatest part of slave mortality was from capture to sale: approximately 2/5; compared to about 1/3 during transport to America.

3. Indenture would, I think, be illegal now: you cannot sell yourself into something amounting to temporary slavery; but there were fewer restrictions on the right of contract then.

4. I note how sensible it was for nations to sell bits of themselves. It is a shame that isn't done any more. The Krauts could have bought some Greek islands at the height of the Euro crisis and everyone would have gained. Minor co-incidence: I grew up near Great Gaddesden; the wiki page picture is by me; I have family buried there.

5. And yet I said it, as I'm sure you've noticed. And this isn't - like, for example, "more or less" - just a verbal tic; I said it because it is needful to say, because otherwise my words remain ambiguous. HZ doesn't do this; all too often his words are deniable. See-also SSC's Conversation Deliberately Skirts The Border Of Incomprehensibility.

7. HZ - and I think this is common of his ilk - regard law and capitalism as co-oppressors of the working class. And there's definitely a correlation (which does not imply...). So it is worth recalling that this isn't "pure" capitalism, this is "crony capitalism" (shades of "but the DDR wasn't really socialist"). See-also Does Libertarianism Favor Labor? by Arnold Kling.

8. I've only defended the "money" here. One could perhaps argue that the words "corporate personhood" matter because they allow you, sneakily, by analogy, to extend corporations other rights like free speech and hence political donations. I think I argue that similar arguments - that the corps are only representatives of persons - allow me to reach the same result.

9. Does "In 1895" mean just in that one year, or then-and-for-the-future? The latter is more obvious.

10. He denies the possibility of doing this, in the Afterword.