Profile for Eric Balkan > Reviews

Personal Profile

Content by Eric Balkan
Top Reviewer Ranking: 1,665,160
Helpful Votes: 22

Learn more about Your Profile.

Reviews Written by
Eric Balkan (Maryland)

Page: 1
Barbarians Gift Pack (6 DVD Box Set)
Barbarians Gift Pack (6 DVD Box Set)

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Superficial, 7 July 2011
I saw this on American TV, on the History Channel. The History Channel often tries hard to be entertaining, at the expense of actually doing history -- and this fit right in with that. An example of what's wrong: the 2-minute reenactment of the Huns attacking innocent villagers was the same footage as the Goths attacking innocent villagers. Apparently the producer felt that "barbarians" are generic -- seen one, seen them all. For a more intelligent alternative, take a look at Terry Jones' Barbarians.

The Postal History of the Army of the Black Sea: 1918 - 1923
The Postal History of the Army of the Black Sea: 1918 - 1923
by John Slingsby
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Extensively researched, 29 Sep 2010
Mr. Slingsby's book is quite an achievement. It's hard to imagine any other book covering similar subject matter in more detail. Or with a better approach. Part of the Stuart Rossiter Trust Fund series on postal history, it raises the bar for anyone thinking of writing military-related postal history. The approach Mr. Slingsby used here is to describe first the military activity, and then the postal usage. This makes the postal history more understandable -- by placing it in context -- while at the same time making the book an excellent reference for those interested primarily in the military aspects of the campaigns.

In the 1918-1923 period, the British military operated in Macedonia, Western Thrace, Bulgaria, Romania, Turkey, Transcaucasia (e.g. Azerbaijan), Transcaspia (i.e. Turkmenistan), and Northern Persia. Mr. Slingsby details the commanders, troop movements, and engagements -- against Turks or Bolsheviks -- chronologically for each of these areas. There are maps, occasional scenic photographs, and of course photographs of postmarks, covers, and postcards. All well organized. An extensive bibliography is included.

Free Trade Doesn't Work: What Should Replace It and Why
Free Trade Doesn't Work: What Should Replace It and Why
by Edward Luttwak
Edition: Paperback

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent case against free trade, 28 Sep 2010
A writer in The Economist is reported to have said that even if a theory is not supported by the facts, it should not be discarded if it's based on impeccable logic. If you believe that, you won't like Mr. Fletcher's book. Actually, Mr. Fletcher discusses not only real-world data but why the logic behind free trade theory is faulty.

Before I get into specifics about the book itself, I think it's worth noting that this is not the first book debunking free trade mythology. Other writers, like H-J Chang and Ravi Batra, for instance, have previously done so. But Mr. Fletcher's book seems the most complete in its approach, and so the most worthwhile for someone who has an open mind on the subject.

Of course, you don't need a book to have doubts about free trade. Some hundred years ago, Czarist Russia took a free trade approach when deciding where to buy munitions. Why have Russian companies produce weapons, the Czar must have reasoned, when he could buy better and cheaper weapons from German companies. Well, we all know how that turned out. 'The difference between theory and practice is greater in practice than it is in theory'. (For a more recent example of free trade in practice, watch the DVD documentary Life and Debt, about the Jamaican economy.)

(from the Table of Contents)

Introduction: Why We Can't Trust the Economists
Part I: The Problem
Chapter 1: The Bad Arguments for Free Trade
2: Deficits, TIme Horizons, and Perverse Efficiency
3: Trade Solutions that Won't Work
4: Critiques of Free Trade to Avoid
Part II: The Real Economics of Trade
5: Ye Olde Theory of Comparative Advantage
6: The Deliberately Forgotten History of Trade
7: The Negligible Benefits of Free Trade
8: The Disingenouous Law and Diplomacy of Free Trade
Part III: The Solution
9: Where Does Growth Really Come From
10: The Multiple Equilibrium Revolution
11: The Natural Strategic Tariff
12: The End of the Free Trade Coalition

The nation-state is not irrelevant, the world's economy is not borderless, free trade is not inevitable, and economic theories can't be proven by mathematical models that eliminate all the messy parts of human behavior. And Mr. Fletcher is just getting started when he raises these points. He continues with a discussion of the conventional 'knowledge' about free trade, and trade in general, that many of us have heard, and describes what's wrong with it. E.g., education won't save us, currency revaluations don't mean all that much. etc. This is written from an American perspective, but much of it applies globally.

As an economist, Mr. Fletcher gets into the economics behind trade in Part II. But it's economics written for a layperson -- no specialised knowledge required. Very readable. As you might guess, if you've had any exposure to economics, Mr. Fletcher discusses the basic theory behind free trade, that of David Ricardo, a British businessman back in the early 19th century. It was Ricardo who came up with the theory of comparative advantage, which essentially, and being a bit simplistic here, stated that countries should produce what they're best at. E.g., Portugal should make wine, England should make textiles, etc. Mr. Fletcher goes into what's wrong with the theory. Of course, it doesn't take much thought to realize that if Japan or China had followed this advice, their economies would still be largely based on rice-growing. But you get a good breakdown of the theory and its problems here.

But didn't Britain and the USA rise to prominence based on free trade? In the early 19th century, Britain did not practice free trade -- it had tariffs. Later in the century, Britain did abandon tariffs -- but by that time they weren't needed. Britain had become the dominant player in the industrial world. (And was able to use its military to prevent competition, e.g., turning India from a major textile exporter into an importer, a situation that lasted until Gandhi.) Economist Friedrich List, quoted by Mr. Fletcher, called this 'kicking away the ladder'. (Also the title of a book by Prof Chang.) The US, for its part, has always had tariffs. The very first Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, convinced Congress that tariffs were needed to protect "infant industries". During the 19th century, tariffs ranged from 30-50%. Yet, today, organizations like the IMF discourage developing countries from adopting the same methods.

Mr. Fletcher continues in Part III with a discussion of what economic policy should really focus on. His conclusion, which I can't say I agree with entirely, is to have a flat tariff. At first blush, this seems like too simple a solution, but it does have its merits. By avoiding a complex solution involving a lot of regulations, a simple solution allows the market to make its own adjustments.

To sum up, what Mr. Fletcher has created with this book is an excellent guide to understanding why countries could follow the trade prescriptions of mainstream economics, and fall further behind -- while countries that have followed it the least seem to be doing the best.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 29, 2012 5:35 PM BST

African History: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)
African History: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)
by John Parker
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.59

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Necessary background to understanding Africa, 16 Sep 2009
Like many of the OUP "Very Short Introduction" series, you can't really tell what the book is about from the title. This is not a survey of African history, but rather a survey of how historians, political leaders and others have interpreted African history. E.g., colonialists created an African history -- or pretended there wasn't one -- that would best serve the cause of colonialism. That is, if Africa is seen as a land of primitive, savage tribes, the colonial powers could defend their actions as just spreading civilization. Conversely, post-colonialists have often created a nationalistic view of African countries that did not exist prior to the European powers marking arbitary lines on their maps.

The authors take pains to note that any statement about Africa as a whole is likely an over-generalization. The history of the Congo area, for instance, is considerably different from that of South Africa. Yet, as diverse as the regions are, the authors assert that the concept of "Africa" shouldn't be abandoned.

The whole subject of African history is a difficult one for historians, or anyone, because of the lack of sources. What we know of African cities like Timbuktu is essentially what travelers wrote about them. Often, the African climate has worked to eradicate the records of what might have been there prior to 19th century European colonization. Even oral history is suspect, as oral histories are subject to change over time. This makes it difficult for those attempting to decolonize Africa to actually figure out what a particular African region was like prior to colonization. For once colonization began, the nature of the region might have changed drastically. For instance, the 1996 Rwanda genocide of the Hutu against the Tutsi is not, as depicted in Western media, a struggle between two tribes. The difference between the Hutu and the Tutsi -- genetically the same -- entirely stems from how these people were treated by German and Belgian colonialists, creating an artificial division between them that continued and worsened even after the Europeans were long gone. (It occurs to me as I write this, that this is somewhat similar to the aftermath of Ottoman colonization of Southern Slavs.)

But while African history can't escape concentrating on the effects of colonialism, the authors cover other areas, e.g., the participation of African states in the slave trade -- possibly as many slaves went East as went across the Atlantic, and many slaves were transferred internally only. African history can't be discussed without discussing the slave trade, but the authors warn that there was a lot going on at the time not related to the slave trade, so it's a mistake to think of Africa as a continent of victims.

History has always been more about interpretation than "facts", and that's particularly true in the case of Africa.

If you plan on reading any African history, or just want to understand the background of current African political issues, this book will provide needed perspective.

Page: 1