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CM Weston (Warsaw)
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Ludwig Von Mises: A Primer (Occasional Paper)
Ludwig Von Mises: A Primer (Occasional Paper)
by Eamonn Butler
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A First Rate Intro to one of the "Greats in Economics", 12 May 2011
I came across this book through two means. First of all I was introduced to Mises by Dr Przybycinski, who teaches an excellent course in "Institutional Economics" at Warsaw`s SGH; and secondly through being a regular reader of Eamonn Butler`s blog which provides a sharpedged scrutiny of real life political and economical foibles in this day and age. Mr Butler has written a short but incisive account of the Man and his works. Mises remains one of those shadowy figures in political economy who nevertheless loom large in their influence on other, more well known figures, such as Frederich Hayek. Mr Butler recounts how Mises could be uncompromising in his views - he stormed out of one Mont Pelerin meeting during a discussion on progressive income taxes accusing them of being "a bunch of Socialists" and cut off personal relations with a friend who questioned the wisdom of the gold standard!
Mr Butler outlines a number of his major contributions, as follows:
- Economics is about individuals, and their motives and actions rather than perceived measures of aggregates.
- Money as an economic good itself rather than a measure of worth. In particular, Mises` influential work "The Theory of Money & Credit" is appraised on this subject.
- The Business Cycle and its ups & downs, as well as the curse of mistaken over-investment - "malinvestment". Mises cooperated extensively with Hayek on this subject and Hayek was to win a Nobel Prize in Economics shortly after Mises` death for their joint efforts in this area.
- Capital, interest & time. Mises provided a better understanding of these aspects and how individuals treat them. Butler covers the relevance of Mises` work on business cycles and interest to recent events in the world economy.
- Socialism and its impossibility without the existence of proper markets and pricing signals. Now this is taken for granted worldwide (and particularly in Poland post 1989) but in the 1920s to 40s was considered controversial as central planning appeared to offer an alternative.
This book is only just over a 100 pages and it covers a lot of ground at a brisk pace but Mr Butler makes it very digestible. It certainly succeeded in whetting my appetite for more and accordingly I have ordered several of the many books covered in the text.


Kill Khalid: The Failed Mossad Assasination of Khalid Mishal and the Rise of Hamas
Kill Khalid: The Failed Mossad Assasination of Khalid Mishal and the Rise of Hamas
by Paul McGeough
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £25.00

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The rise and rise of Hamas, 28 Aug. 2009
In fact, the plot to kill Khalid Mishal represents a very small part of the book - the author has been wise in not repeating the coverage of this incident in Gordon Thomas`"Gideon`s Spies". A fair amount of the book deals with the aftermath in terms of how that wiley "Old Fox of the Middle East", the late King Hussein, managed to secure from Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, the antidote for the poison sprayed into Khalid`s ear by Mossad agents that ultimately saved Khalid`s life, the release of Hamas` founders, Sheikh Ahmad Yassin and other imprisoned Hamas and Fatah prisoners. Hussein`s maneouvering against the Israelis - the surrounding of the Israeli embassy in Amman by Jordanian troops, and bringing the US on board in the resolution of the crisis represented an unusual putdown of the Israeli leadership, reeling from the bungled assasination attempt.
That said, the book plots the subsequent rise of Khalid and of Hamas as well, against a backdrop of Israeli "targeted" assasinations, Arafat`s and the PLO`s attempts to curtail their influence, the increasing belligerence of the US administration and the falling into line of the EU behind Arafat`s successor, Mahmoud Abbas. The author has looked at the US effort to crack down on the funding efforts in their country, particularly the legal case against one of the leading charities, the Holy Land Foundation.
The author has managed to interview Khalid himself in his Damascus bunker from which he still directs the Hamas movement, now ensconced in government in Gaza after a short, bloody rout there of US armed and trained Fatah forces in June 2007. The picture one draws, whether intended or not by the author, is of a Gerry Adams figure - Hamas` strategy of the bullet and the ballotbox - we should note that Hamas won the democratic elections held in Gaza and the West Bank in 2006, and the attempt to distinguish between the political and armed wings, is similar to that adopted by Sinn Fein/IRA, which has ultimately prevailed in Northern Ireland. One can discern in the book Khalid trying to follow in Adams` steps although he still has a long way to go and the path may not be nearly as straightforward.
At some point, if not already now secretly underway through trusted intermediaries, the US and Israelis are likely to have to come to terms with Mr Khalid and Hamas. As the book concludes: "(Whether the next President is Obama or McCain), he will find the file of the Arab - Israeli conflict on his desk, and he`ll find the word `Hamas` written on every page".
One slight drawback is that the book came out just before the Israeli - Hamas conflict of January 2009 and therefore the author did not provide his take on the outcome although it is widely perceived as being a setback for the Israelis. All in all, this is a good read.


Countdown to Crisis: Coming Nuclear Showdown with Iran
Countdown to Crisis: Coming Nuclear Showdown with Iran
by Kenneth R. Timmerman
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.99

1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Nuclear showdown with Iran, 20 July 2009
This book is a little dated - it came out in 2006, but it is still definitely worth a read. Mr Timmerman has produced a highly readable book on Iran`s secret (and none too secret) development of nuclear weapons and their missile programme.
He very much believes that even in 2006 the programme was more advanced than observers believe and he has attempted to substantiate that with defectors tales, documents and other sources. I suspect the major psychological obstacle to digesting the allegations is everyone`s concerns, after the nonappearance of WMD in Iraq, that the sources may not appear to be all they say they are - some of the allegations come from a longterm Iranian terrorist group and there is some caution over defectors given the "Curveball" fiasco ie the source behind the mobile WMD production facility "that never was" in Iraq, and whether there are now options available to the authorities to force Iran from pulling back from its onward march towards this capability.
Mr Timmerman states the case that there were and are ongoing close links between Al Qaeda and the Iranian intelligence sources. The 9/11 Commission looked at possible Iranian involvement and stated that there were "unusual coincidences" of (Iranian backed) Hezbollah individuals travelling with some of the hijackers and urged the US government to investigate further. Mr Timmerman suggests that the US government has done very little to follow up on this for reasons unknown.
There is little in the book to suggest that any of the other presidential contenders in the recent Iranian elections would significantly change direction re nuclear capability from that pursued by Ahmadinejad.
He also suggests that while intelligence servics were looking at Russia, it was the notorious AQ Khan network and North Korea that has substantially provided Iran with the WMD ways and means.
This is an interesting, well written book and poses some serious questions of the US and other countries, and international organisations as to how Iran has been able to come so far in developing WMD.


The Credit Crunch: Housing Bubbles, Globalisation and the Worldwide Economic Crisis
The Credit Crunch: Housing Bubbles, Globalisation and the Worldwide Economic Crisis
by Graham Turner
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Recession economics, 20 July 2009
Mr Turner wrote this book in the first half of 2008 so it has missed some of the later developments in 2008 such as the collapse of Lehman Brothers, but it is still essential reading on the causes of the worst recession in almost eighty years. The author is dismissive of a suggested cause being proffered of the crisis being due to excess savings in Asia. For him, the causes are very much our own - in essence, he states that the credit boom was allowed by govrnments to get out of hand to mask the shortfalls in national incomes caused by companies shifting production or outsourcing overseas. In effect, he argues that the accelerated drive to globalisation has contributed largely to our problems.
The author spends a reasonable amount of time on Japan and its problems stemming from its own boom to bust in the 1980s and its protracted recession thereafter, for lessons to be learned by the authorities. This is essential to explaining some of the policy options being taken by central banks and finance ministries worldwide since the major challenge has been deflation rather than inflation - deflation raises the real cost of borrowings and makes it more difficult for borrower to repay. Policy actions to date have stabilised the situation. Interestingly, Mr Turner recommended quantitative easing and this has been introduced. He is somewhat sceptical of the causes of the crisis being solely down to the regulatory regimes failing to take action and that reforms in this area will be the panacea for our ills. That said, his other policy prescriptions did not quite hold water for me - namely, reducing corporate power or increasing the strength of labour. The latter by suggesting free trade deals should ensure Chinese workers have identical rights to those in the west may appear superficially attractive but I doubt would wash with the Chinese government. The author is also a little light on how corporate power would be reduced.
Overall this is a lively and entertaining book that is well argued and has covered a lot of ground in terms of the issues, how countries globally have been affected and the relevance of past crises to the one now being experienced.


Nuclear Showdown: North Korea Takes on the World
Nuclear Showdown: North Korea Takes on the World
by Gordon G. Chang
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars North Korea in passing, 20 July 2009
This is an odd book. Despite the title and the promise of the author - he wrote an interesting book on China, this book fails to deliver on its main subjectmatter, namely the ongoing nuclear crisis with North Korea, that has engaged, and still is, engaging the attentions of US Presidents. The author gives us the standard history of how a divided Korea came about post war - it is clear that it was never a priority issue for the US administration in their planning for a post war global order but it has since come back to haunt every US administration since North Korea invaded the South in 1950.
Mr Chang`s more interesting section concerns North Korea`s economy - for example, North Korea had a more successful economy than the South`s upto the early 1970s when South Korea developed into an "Asian tiger" and then left the North well behind. One feels that this is the author`s strength - particularly given his background and experience covering China`s rise, but he does not play to it.
Instead we have almost perfunctory chapters on the developments that led to the bomb and its missile programme, but very little indepth analysis.
Overall a little disappointing and perhaps the reader should opt for "Rogue Regime" by Jasper Becker.


Persian Dreams: Moscow and Tehran Since the Fall of the Shah
Persian Dreams: Moscow and Tehran Since the Fall of the Shah
by John W. Parker
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £27.00

5.0 out of 5 stars "Moscow and Tehran`s Relationship of Convenience", 17 July 2009
This is a timely book appearing while the US seeks greater assistance from Russia in addressing the "Iranian nuclear problem". The book charts the growing relationship of this "Odd Couple". Russia, given its longstanding involvement in Persia, and together with the British, jointly occupied the country during the Second World War, should have at least partially qualified as a runner up to "Little Satan" UK but has managed to reach an accomodation of sorts with Iran over the years. Despite Iran under the Shah being a fervent ally of the US, a reasonable level of good relations appears to have existed between Iran and Russia.
Notwithstanding the Russian leaning to the Iraqi side in the Iran - Iraq War, it managed to keep the relationship with the then Khomeini run Iran on an even keel. A significant amount of the existing commercial and military arrangements seem to have originated in the Gorbachev era and were maintained by Yeltsin, partly as a sop to nationalist elements in Russia, partly to keep sectors of Russian business afloat and to "cock a snoop" at the US.
That said, the relationship appears to be one more of convenience rather than of warmth. The Russians have been on the opposing side to Iran when a civil war took place in Tajikistan in the 1990s but on the same side when dealing with the Taliban and arming the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan. The Iranians have not taken advantage of events in the Caucasus despite their historic interests there. Both sides remain at odds over the development of energy interests in the Caspian - with Iran wanting a greater share. Iran has been less than enamoured by Russia`s "go slow" on the Bushehr nuclear facility and unwilligness to supply sophisticated missile systems.
The author identifies some interesting facts particularly about commercial relations - Russia`s exports to Iran are around US$ 1 - 2 billion out of a total of US$ 250 billion - in comparison, trade with Turkey amounts to US $ 15 bn and even with Israel is US$ 1 billion. Even arms sales to Iran have never been that significant. Business is not what is keeping this relationship going but politics - countering the US, which appeals to both countries` ruling elites. That said, Iran was clearly taken by surprise by Putin`s offer in 2007 to the Bush administration to share data from its radar installation leased in Azerbaijan to counter missile threats, as well as Putin`s decision to permit US forces in Central Asia in 2001 post 9/11. But there is no doubt that Russia has assisted Iran by providing Iran with diplomatic cover in the UN and elsewhere concerning nuclear matters.
Based on the author, it still remains to be seen whether Russia will be either willing or able to head off the prospect of a nuclear armed neighbour to its south and the attendant consequences. The book relates a conversation in 1979 between the then head of the KGB, Yuri Andropov, and the KGB`s Tehran station head: "Watch out brother," Andropov cautioned, "the Persians are such a people that they can make a fool of you in a flash, and you won`t even have time to groan!" Wise advice indeed for his KGB trained successor.
This is a fascinating work on a relationship which will continue to be of great interest to all observers.


Early Writings (Penguin Classics)
Early Writings (Penguin Classics)
by Marx
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.00

5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars First beginnings of Marxism, 16 July 2009
Marx penned these writings in the years of 1843 to 1844 - this was around three to four years before his first great (co authored) work "The Communist Manifesto". I think the main item of interest is how Marx evolves in the course of these two years. The opening is his "Critique of Hegel`s Doctrine of the State". This is quite a dense philosophical work and should be read carefully in conjunction with the "Introduction" which greatly assists the reader in understanding Marx`s concepts.
Of greater interest will be the "Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts" which represents a small step on the road to what was to lead to his later opus magnus "Capital".
Marx, as usual, engages in some pungent observations of the capitalist system, for example: "No eunuch flatters his despot more basely or uses more infamous means to revive his flagging capacity for pleasure, in order to win a surreptitious favour for himself, than does the eunuch of industry, the maufacturer, in order to sneak himself a silver penny or two or coax gold from the pocket of his dearly beloved neighbour" or "Money is the pimp between need and object".
In addition, in view of recent economic events, the reader should also read "Excerpts of James Mill`s Elements of Political Economy" and digest Marx`s musings on the credit system. "Thus the credit relationship - both from the point of view of the man who needs credit and of him who gives it - becomes an object of commerce, an object of mutual deception and exploitation."
This is a worthwhile read for pointers to Marx`s later development of his ideas.


The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State
The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State
by Friedrich Engels
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.00

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Engels` masterpiece on the Origin of the Family, 29 Jun. 2009
Engels wrote this book in 1884 - a year after the death of his longterm partner, Marx. It was influenced by some of Marx`s own writings - an example of the lively exchange of ideas between the two, and research published by an anthropologist of the time, Lewis H Morgan, contained in "Ancient Society".
Engels goes through the major epochs of man and woman`s coexistence from the time of 'Savagery' through 'Barbarism' to the epoch of 'Civilization', describing how woman`s role has changed due to economic developments - the rise of capitalism and the impact on society, in particular, women`s role and rights. For this, Engels turns to research conducted on American indians and other tribes, as well as tracing the history of the Athenian state, Rome and the German tribes.
It is quite a wideranging book in the subjects covered - touching upon the history of social relationships - the economic ascent of man and fall of woman, sex, social anthropology et al. It is also no wonder that this book attracts warm compliments from feminists with: "The overthrow of mother right was the world historic defeat of the female sex. The man seized the reins in the house also; the woman was degraded, enthralled, the slave of the man`s lust, a mere instrument for breeding children. The lowered position of women has become gradually embellished and dissembled and, in part, clothed in a milder form, but by no means abolished". Or: "The first division of labor is that between man and woman for child breeding".
But this is not all, Engels also touches on environmental issues towards the end of the book - he has already spotted the reverse side of unbridled economic development.
In addition, Engels lets loose his usual wry observations and humour - 'the principal industry of Verdun in the tenth century, that is, in the Holy Roman Empire,' he comments, 'was the manufacture of eunuchs, who were exported with great profit to Spain for the harems of the Moors.'
This is a thought provoking and entertaining work from a classic author.


Inside Egypt: The Land of the Pharaohs on the Brink of a Revolution
Inside Egypt: The Land of the Pharaohs on the Brink of a Revolution
by John R. Bradley
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £22.99

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Egypt on the brink", 28 Jun. 2009
This is an excellent book on the current state of affairs in Egypt. Egypt has been under a military dictatorship since the early 1950s - its latest living embodiment, Hosni Mabarak, who took power in 1981 after the assassination of Anwar Sadat, is in charge of an increasingly corrupt, violent regime, beset by significant economic and social problems, and facing a possible succession crisis - the author is sceptical of Hosni`s son, Gamal`s, chances of inheriting power although he doesn`t rule it out entirely.
The author also addresses the possible main contender for power, the Muslim Brotherhood. He delves into their beliefs and aims, and interviews one of their leading spokesmen - there is little there to reassure outside observers of a 'happy ending' as per the Turkish model. In fact, one is more struck with the unerring parallels with Pakistan - longlasting military involvement in running the country (down), squeezing out of moderates and secularists from involvement in parliament and civil society, the use of alliances with Islamic extremists to send "signals' to the American government not to take the current leadership for granted, stay away from trying to promote human rights and keep the financial support coming - the author reckons the latter at over US $ 2 billion per annum. (One other common item - ownership of nuclear arms, is missing now). Mubarak has been adept at sending the US government the right signals - when the US wanted to push for more transparency and accountability in Egypt, Mubarak, as dictator and in whose power it lies, "awarded" the Muslim Brotherhood 20 % of the seats in the new parliament in 2005. The author states that this was a reminder to the US of along the lines "apres moi, la deluge" and accordingly the US backed off. The author states the turnout was around 25 % - giving an indicator of the population`s disenchantment with the regime. The author concludes that there is a real danger that by his actions of support, Mubarak may yet end up creating the Brothers as the only viable political force in the country apart from the military. If the military choose to disengage, they will emerge as the party of power with all the consequences.
The chapter on "Torture" in the book is not for the sqeamish.
The chapters on social issues - religion - the influence of Shiism on certain rites, the pressures faced by Coptic Christians as well as the effects of tourism ie foreigners buying land and marrying locals and the consequences for the local inhabitants, are also of great interest.
The author has provided a thought provoking and highly readable book on this country and its future prospects.


Ministry of Defeat: The British War in Iraq 2003-2009
Ministry of Defeat: The British War in Iraq 2003-2009
by Richard North
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £19.98

64 of 66 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars British Army`s "Unfinest hour", 28 Jun. 2009
Richard North has written a devastating history of the British Army`s involvement in Iraq. He has stated his case with a lot of verve and passion. He should rightly take some credit for highlighting the "Snatch landrover" scandal, but in many ways the book falls short of its considerable promise.
For instance, the book almost invariably cites references to newspapers` coverage of events but the author does not appear to have interviewed many significant individuals involved in the conflict who might have shed greater light on some of the wider issues involved - he does not seem to have interviewed any US politicians or military for their input, and I was also surprised to see he was not able to access any major documents from US under "Freedom of Information". I find it difficult to believe that there are not some rich pickings from US diplomatic, military and intelligence sources on their views of the British involvement.
Mr North also takes aim at Tony Blair re his opportunism and lack of reality but then again Blair was no novice in the employment of military forces as John Kampfner has set out in "Blair`s Wars" - he committed British forces to action five times in six years. Where Blair seems to have fallen short is poor selection of politicians of a sufficient weight and stature as Defence Ministers to exercise robust oversight over the conduct of the war, and particularly the military, in Iraq and that he probably should have made some changes in senior personnel similar to Bush`s overhaul of his military ie the appointment of Gates as a "heavyweight" Defence Secretary, Petraeus as forces commander etc.
And it is in this sphere, the conduct of the war on the ground and its political supervision, Mr North has tended to "pull his punches". There was quite rightly, as he has identified, major deficiencies in the procurement system. (There is an anti EU slant given to why procurement was badly skewed - due to a deal with Chirac re future EU forces, but this fails to convince entirely). Mr North only leaves it really to the final part of the book when he starts to take aim at the British officers and their inability to confront the situation on the ground - as Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup is quoted: "I think that we were a bit too complacent about our experiences in Northern Ireland and certainly on occasion we were a bit too smug about those experiences". As readers of "Fiasco" and "The Gamble", as well as "The War Within", know: the Americans had to ascend a very steep, learning curve in learning how to cope with the insurgency and there was a fair amount of "we have the background and experience gathered in Northern Ireland etc" from the British side for them to contend with. The Americans seem to have been able to find it within themselves to revamp equipment, tactics, training and personnel, particularly senior officers, to at least start to turn things round. There seems to have been nothing approaching this on the British side and it is unfortunate that the author doesn`t see fit to comment on why not.
This is troubling as the UK military commitment to Afghanistan is being increased and one wonders whether, based on the unhappy experiences in Basra, we may be setting up our forces for a major fall there. Have the forces learnt the lessons from Basra - are they able to adapt to a new situation? The author seems to be proffering proper "procurement" as the answer but he does admit to there also being required "right structures, tactics" although he does not much elaborate thereon.
In addition, while criticising the UK government for withdrawing the forces over the period from 2003 onwards, the author states "More troops devoted to fighting the insurgency are not necssarily an answer". But this flies in the face of one of the reasons why the US forces were able to reduce the level of violence by means of "the Surge". The author doesn`t elaborate why this was not pursued by the British in their area of responsibility. In the US context, it was a small group of army officers, some retired, under the cover of President Bush and Republican Senator McCain, who pushed through an increased level of forces to successfully conduct a counter insurgency campaign as a counterproposal to the military and political establishment`s view of a progressive, if not outright, reduction of forces in Iraq. There does not seem to have been any military officers on the British side pushing for changes in troop levels or tactics etc. Did officers believe that there was no way to adjust tactics or consider alternatives? Did officers believe their forces were adequate? The author is silent on this whole area. In the US context, US forces were also initially poorly equipped for the insurgency and Rumsfield was called to account by disgruntled troops on a visit to the area re lack of protection. But this was viewed by some at the time as a secondary (albeit still important) symptom of a wider set of problems connected with an insurgency that seemed to have spun out of the US` control.
The US forces seem to have successfully turned around significant numbers of hostile locals - sometimes by arming them and getting them to fight other insurgents - why did this not take place in southern Iraq? Could they not find or persuade anyone?! Was there no political will? Was there a military decision not to do so? Were the forces on the ground inadequate to train significant numbers of Iraqis to fight? Again the author is silent.
Most successful counter insurgencies to some extent rely on good intelligence gathering eg Malaysia, Northern Ireland etc - again this is not really addressed by the author throughout his book.
The 'for you, Tommy, the war is over" moment came in May/June 2008 when US and Iraqi forces, without any substantive British military involvement, launched Operation 'Promise of Peace' in Basra and southern Iraq which killed 2,000 of the Mahdi Army - long a major bugbear of the British forces in their area, and significantly curtailed their abilities to terrorise the local population. The Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki thereafter appears to have effectivly terminated the British presence in the country due to "nonperformance".
Overall, Mr North should be complimented on writing this book on what appears to have been one of the British Army`s saddest and most unsuccessful military actions in a very long time. He rightfully deserves credit for identifying problems in the army`s procurement system. It is regrettable however he has not more fully explored some of the other major issues arising - some of which he briefly alludes to but without developing further in his book. Also he may have missed an opportunity to comment on whether lessons have been learnt for Afghanistan.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 12, 2009 9:32 AM BST


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