Saturday, July 3, 2010

Matlock on Superpower Illusions

I just finished Superpower Illusions: How Myths and False Ideologies Led America Astray—And How to Return to Reality by Jack Matlock (2010, 368 p.). Ambassador Matlock served a number of years in the U.S. Foreign Service, including a stint as ambassador the Soviet Union at the time of Gorbachev, Reagan, and the end of the Cold War. Matlock has written almost two books here: one on the history of the Cold War, or rather, the end of the Cold War, which he emphasizes occurred before the disintegration of the Soviet Union. The second part of the book addresses the foolish hubris reflected in U.S. policy that followed the end of the Cold War and Soviet Union. Matlock makes clear that we did not "win" the Cold War; it stopped by mutual agreement. Matlock has almost unstinting praise for Ronald Reagan and the attitude he took toward Gorbachev and change in Soviet leadership that Gorbachev represented. Unfortunately, so Matlock thinks, we took our supposed victory too far in extending NATO into former Warsaw Pact nations and thereby threatening Russia. We also have gotten ourselves into some very difficult situations since then. Matlock has plenty to say that is critical of Clinton administration attitudes and actions, although his harshest criticisms go toward the George W. Bush administration.

After Matlock retired from the Foreign Service he has taught, including a stint at Princeton in the George Kennan chair, and I certainly get the impression from this book that Matlock merited such a prestigious honor (or at least I think that it should a very prestigious honor!). I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the perspectives of a person who has represented the U.S. in the front lines of diplomatic engagement and who has learned a great deal from his experiences. An excellent book.

Feguson: An Evolutionary Approach to Financial History

I watched a very interesting presentation made this spring @ Grisham College in London by Niall Ferguson. Entitled "An Evolutionary Approach to Financial History", it proved quite interesting. Financial history is where Ferguson cut his teeth, including a study of the House of Rothschild (in two volumes) and most recently, a biography of German-born, London-based financier Siegmund Warburg. In this talk, Ferguson compares the financial world to the natural world, invoking impressive precedents from the likes of Thorstein Veblen and Joseph Schumpeter, among others. I think his argument and comparisons quite sound; in fact, I've seen more and more comparisons of economic life to the world of evolutionary nature. Ferguson notes that there certainly are differences, such as (the effort, at least) of intelligent design of financial systems and the existence of Lamarckian (inherited traits) evolution (thanks to culture), between the natural world and the man-made world of finances. However, the similarities are even greater. In all, an excellent and thoughtful consideration of a model for considering finance and financial history. I think that Ferguson is on the something here.