Blame Jews For Everything For Dummies

A difficult history

For centuries Jews have lived as a minority in the lands of others. Their relationship with the majority has often been problematic. What to do with the Jews? It was a question asked by thinkers and leaders alike. Martin Luther and Karl Marx felt the urge to express their opinion on this matter. Adolf Hitler sought a definitive solution of the issue, which was exterminating them. Jews still are blamed for many things. A few examples:

  • People who oppose interest and usury often blame the Jews for it as Jews have been money lenders for centuries and many Jews are still working in finance.
  • Jews have taken a piece of Arab land that is now called Israel. They expelled most of the Arab inhabitants. That’s why a lot of Arabs don’t like Jews.
  • It is sometimes said that the Jews determine what you hear on the radio and see on television because they control the media.
  • Perhaps you have read that Jews cause wars and revolutions, often with a little help from the secretive Freemasons and the elusive Illuminati.
  • Jews have been accused of harvesting organs without consent and being involved in the illegal organ trade.
  • Some people believe that Jews can’t be trusted because they are more loyal to Israel than the country they live in.
  • The political corruption in the United States is caused by a poor political system, but the Jews seem to profit from it, so follow the money.
  • Same goes for poor quality Hollywood movies. The Jews did it.
  • And Jews can be blamed for a lot of other things too, of course not the ‘good Jews’, only the ‘evil Jews’, but it is hard to tell the difference, so don’t trust them.

This is a difficult history. Closer inspection reveals that things aren’t always what they seem. There allegedly has been a long Christian tradition of intolerance towards Jews. Only Christians were even more intolerant towards all other religions, including other versions of Christianity. Only Jews were tolerated, first because the Pope said so, and later because Jews proved to be useful for trade, tax collecting and money lending, which were activities Christians found to be morally reprehensible and didn’t like to do themselves. In fact, Christians have been exceptionally tolerant towards the Jews.

Muslims were even more tolerant. Apart from Jews they also tolerated Christians. Despite that, Christianity and Islam were amongst the most intolerant religions that ever existed. That proved to be crucial for their success. Apparently the owner of this universe didn’t provide us with ample proof of Her existence so convincing people by argument wasn’t an option. The Jews didn’t get that. They preferred to keep exclusive rights to the all-powerful creator of this universe and didn’t try to forcefully convert others.

The plight of the Jews was not much unlike that of other minorities that didn’t adapt and integrate into society. Being beaten up from time to time is the least you can expect from peasants if you are not like them. And it was often worse than that.

Map of Canaan from around 750 BC
Map of Canaan from around 750 BC

Jewish history

Between 1200 BC and 900 BC a few small nation states emerged in an area that is now covered by Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. Among them were Israel and Judah. These small states appeared because Egyptian power in the area was waning. It took a few centuries before new strong powers emerged and these small states were overrun. Israel fell into the hands of the Assyrians in 720 BC. Judah was destroyed in 587 BC by the Babylonians who had taken over the Assyrian Empire.1

These small kingdoms came with a national deity to provide them with protection. Their kings may have adopted a deity to promote a sense of a nation in order to assert their authority. Yahweh was the national deity of Judah and probably also of Israel. Originally, the worship of Yahweh may not have differed much from the worship of other national deities like for instance Chemosh the god of Moab.1

After Israel and Judah had ceased to exist, their inhabitants faced an identity crisis. Their uprisings were defeated. A lot of Jews were taken into exile in Babylonia. Jewish priests then began to write down the Torah (Old Testament) to define a sense of nation around their national deity Yahweh without the need for a king or a territory. In this way the Jews became a people without the need for a land.1 Their promised land Israel or Zion remained a central pillar in their religion nonetheless.

Around 450 BC many Jews who lived in exile were allowed to return. From 164 BC there was an independent Jewish state for 100 years until the Romans conquered it. At the time of Jesus tensions were growing between the Jews and their Roman overlords. These tensions led to several uprisings between 66 AD and 136 AD. During these revolts the Jewish temple was destroyed. Over time the majority of the inhabitants of the area became Christians and later Muslims. Jews remained in scattered communities around the Mediterranean.

In ancient societies knowledge and education were reserved for the elite. The Jews introduced mass education for the people. The Torah became the pillar of their national education system. Divine knowledge, rules, and regulations were open to the public. The value of education became strongly embedded in Jewish culture.1

Nations came and went but the Jews still exist, so becoming people without the need for a land turned out to be a successful long-term survival strategy. The Jewish people are around for more than 2,500 years, while being without a homeland for nearly 2,000 years. Their religion became the basis for Christianity and Islam. As a consequence Christianity and Islam both see Judaism as a legitimate religion. Christians and Muslims allowed Jews to live in their lands, albeit as secondary citizens.2

Living together wasn’t easy. For instance, Christians blamed the Jews for killing Jesus. The Jewish high priests had accused Jesus of blasphemy as he claimed to be the Son of God. According to the Gospel the Jewish high priests and a Jewish mob demanded the crucifixion of Jesus. Also according to the Gospel, which means ‘good news’ by the way, the blood of Jesus may be on the hands of the Jews forever:

When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. ‘I am innocent of this man’s blood,’ he said. ‘It is your responsibility!’ All the people answered, ‘His blood is on us and on our children!’3

It is written in the Gospel that Jesus’ crucifixion happened according to the plan of God as Jesus’ sacrifice allegedly was meant to take away all the sin from the world. This makes God responsible for what happened to Jesus. Whether or not Jesus died on the cross is a matter of debate as the Quran claims that his crucifixion was a ruse.

German picture of 1493 depicting human sacrifice by Jews
German picture of 1493 depicting human sacrifice by Jews

In the Middle Ages rumours spread from time to time that Jews abducted little Christian boys for their secret rituals. This is commonly known as the blood libel. So if a boy disappeared, it was often time to kill some Jews. There was no basis for these beliefs but little did people know about the Jewish religion and its practices.2 Medieval people could freak out quite easily because they lacked proper education. And so witches were burnt on the stake whenever the harvests were poor.

Many people disliked Jews or even hated them. Jews were often involved in trade and finance. These activities were often seen as reprehensible as trade and finance often coincide with questionable ethics. Some languages still reflect this. The English language has the term Jewish stock take, referring to a shopkeeper destroying his or her own shop in a self-lit fire in order to claim insurance. The Dutch language has the word ‘jodenbod’, which means Jew’s bid, to indicate a bid below the market price which people in a desperate position may be forced to accept.

After the French Revolution of 1789, Jews in Western Europe received citizenship, but in Eastern Europe, and most notably in Russia, they faced persecution and pogroms, which are violent riots that included robbery, destruction of property and sometimes killings. Around 1870 the first Jewish settlers entered Palestine. In 1896 Theodor Herzl published The Jewish State in which he claimed that the solution to The Jewish Question was a Jewish state. This marked the beginning of modern Zionism.

In 1873 the Vienna stock market crashed. The event was followed by the long recession of the late nineteenth century that lasted until 1896. It was the first global economic crisis. Economic growth was lower than previously. Anti-Semitism was on the rise in German speaking areas and France as Jewish bankers and industrialists were blamed for the situation. It was also the time when Silvio Gesell was a businessman. He experienced the poor economic conditions first-hand. It made him investigate the underlying causes.

In 1894, Captain Alfred Dreyfus, the only Jewish member of the French general staff, was convicted of spying for Germany. He was rehabilitated a decade later after vigorous protests. During World War I many Jews fought for their nation states, but after the war a myth emerged in Germany, suggesting that the war was lost because of leftists, republicans and a Jewish conspiracy, which is rather ironic as the Jews had been inclined to support Germany in its fight against Russia.

In an effort to gain Jewish support for Britain during World War I, the British offered Palestine to the Jews. The Arabs already living in Palestine had no say in this, which soon led to tensions and violence. After a revolt of the Arabs between 1936 and 1939 the British restricted Jewish immigration. In 1946 Zionists started a guerrilla war against the British while large numbers of Jews were entering Palestine. Many of them were Holocaust survivors.

The Holocaust is a major trauma in the collective memory of the Jews. Nearly six million Jews were killed during World War II, most of them systematically exterminated in concentration camps and mass executions. The Holocaust vindicated the Zionists who believed that Jews can only be safe if they have a country of their own.

In 1947 the United Nations planned to divide Palestine between the Jews and the Arabs. The Arabs didn’t agree and tried to expel the Jews. The war that followed was lost by the Arabs. Many Arab Palestinians were expelled from their homes and Israel was founded. The Arabs tried to reconquer Palestine but failed due to superior Israeli intelligence and military tactics, support from European countries and the United States for Israel, and a bit of miracle.

Over time the Arab nations lost interest in attacking Israel and Israel started colonising Palestinian land. The Palestinians resisted. There have been numerous terror attacks on the Israeli military and civilians. This made Israel seal off the border with Palestine. In recent years rocket attacks from the Gaza strip were sometimes answered with Israeli incursions that killed thousands of Palestinians. Major obstacles to peace currently are the unwillingness of militant groups like Hamas to make a final peace settlement in which Israel is recognised as well as the desire of Israel to colonise Palestinian land.

Conspiracy theories

Conspiracy theories range from crazy rumours to well-documented allegations. Despite being such a small people the Jews have had an enormous impact on world history. This fuels speculation. Before going into the conspiracy theories, it might be a good idea to come up with a few general explanations for the remarkable successes of the Jews:

  • The Jews invented mass education twenty-five centuries ago (it took twenty-four centuries before Western Europe followed suit) because the Jews came to believe that they all had to read their scriptures to discuss them in an intelligent manner.
  • In the past Jews were often pushed into occupations like trade and finance, which are activities that can make you rich without a lot of toil.
  • For centuries Jews have lived under marginal and uncertain conditions which required resourcefulness that may have become part of Jewish culture.
  • There might be a script running all that happens in this universe, and the Jews may be God’s chosen people after all, even though that was not always a blessing for the Jews themselves.

The conspiracy theories have done tremendous harm as they helped to make the Holocaust possible. It may nevertheless be better to view them more objectively as theories that could be reviewed against the evidence. That may require taking some emotional distance as the truth is not always pleasant.

Somehow Israel has the unconditional support of the United States. Senators and members of Congress who don’t agree face the powerful Israel Lobby, which often means that the lobby will fund the campaign of his or her opponent, so that he or she may not be re-elected. There is a joke that goes like this. Why doesn’t Israel become a state of the United States? Well, if Israel does, the country will have only two Senators. Jews have a lot of power in the United States and there is a book that claims that there is a secret Jewish plan to gain world domination.

The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is a hoax made up by the Russian secret service around the year 1900. It subsequently became a guidebook for blaming Jews for everything. The Protocols claim that Jews form a secret cult that is conspiring to gain world dominance. Adolf Hitler believed it and so did many others like the auto maker Henry Ford. Somehow the work became a bit prophetic. That’s the irony of history, or perhaps the plan of God.

The main themes of the Protocols and related conspiracy theories are Jewish control of world finance, Jewish organisation of radical movements and Jewish manipulations of diplomacy to cause wars in which white Christians are killed. There are racist, political and religious aspects to these claims. It is sometimes argued that anti-Semites use so-called whistle words, which means that they secretly mean ‘evil Jews’ even when they don’t say that. That may sometimes be true, but once you depart from taking statements at face value, the argument soon becomes messy.

For instance, Mearsheimer and Walt investigated the power of the Israel Lobby. They claimed that if you criticise Israel in the United States you will be branded an anti-Semite, which means that you are a racist Jew-hater. Major newspapers subsequently published editorials calling their research anti-Semitic. Their book might be criticised for ignoring the pro-Israel viewpoint but that was not the aim of their research. AIPAC is the most prominent organisation in the Israel Lobby. Mearsheimer and Walt concluded:

AIPAC’s success is due to its ability to reward legislators and congressional candidates who support its agenda, and to punish those who challenge it. AIPAC makes sure that its friends get strong financial support from the myriad pro-Israel PACs. Those seen as hostile to Israel, on the other hand, can be sure that AIPAC will direct campaign contributions to their political opponents. The bottom line is that AIPAC, which is a de facto agent for a foreign government, has a stranglehold on the U.S. Congress. Open debate about U.S. policy towards Israel does not occur there.4

Several powerful lobbies operate in the United States, some of them represent ethnic and foreign national interests, but few attract so much attention as the Israel Lobby. So why is the Israel Lobby so powerful, visible and aggressive? There are some possible answers:

  • Unlike other foreign interests, the Israel Lobby has tremendous popular and financial support. Anti-Semitism led to the Holocaust, so the Israel Lobby can more easily claim the moral high ground than any other lobby.
  • Jews don’t feel secure because of the Holocaust and because Israel is founded on land that has been taken from the Arabs. Criticism on Israel and Zionism provokes the fear that the legitimacy of the Jewish state is at stake.
  • Israel is ignoring international law by colonising Palestinian land. The unconditional support of the United States helps Israel to do that. Keeping this support may require suppressing dissent.

The Israel lobby is the most powerful in the United States but it has significant influence in some other countries as well. Powerful lobbies undermine democracies, most notably when they suppress dissent, which is something most lobbies don’t do.

Usury

The Jew as usurer is a well-known theme. The Roman Catholic Church forbade Christians to charge interest to fellow Christians. During the Middle Ages Jews were excluded from a wide range of professions and were pushed into activities that were considered reprehensible. One of them was money lending. The Torah allowed Jews to charge interest to Christians. Interest is one of the least understood economic mechanisms in modern times. It can destroy people, nations and even entire civilisations. The ancient Israelites knew this and believed that interest works like the slow poison of a serpent:

Usury does not all at once destroy a man or nation with, as it were, a bloody gulp. Rather, it slowly, sometimes nearly imperceptibly, subverts the victim’s constitution until he cannot prevent the fatal consequences even though he knows what is coming.5

In the Middle Ages interest rates were high, sometimes as much as 20% to 30% annually, so the insidious nature of interest was more visible than it is nowadays. And Jews were often blamed because they were the money lenders. The persecutions of Jews were profitable for their debtors. For instance, in 1290 king Edward I expelled the Jews from England, confiscated their assets, and defaulted on the loans he had received from them.

With the advent of modern banking things changed. In the 16th century short-term interest rates dropped to around 10% per year because financial markets became more developed and efficient. Because interest rates went down, and because of the Protestant reformation, religious objections against charging interest waned. As Christians were allowed to charge interest on fellow Christians the Jewish role in money lending was reduced but it remained significant. Interest became an essential part of the capitalist economy and Western culture became ignorant about problematic nature of interest.

Jews still play a prominent role in the financial sector in the United States. Several Jews have served as chairmen of the Fed, including Alan Greenspan, Ben Bernanke and Janet Yellen. The apparent parasitic nature of the financial sector and the bailouts feed the conspiracy theory of Jewish usury. Real wages in the United States have hardly risen for decades but the US financial sector comprised only 10% of total non-farm business profits in 1947 but grew to 50% by 2010. Among those who profited were many Jews. While many ordinary people in the United States are struggling to make ends meet, the top 1% is doing very well. Many of them are Jews too.

Anti-Zionism

Some anti-Zionists claim that Zionism equals Nazism. The idea that Jews are God’s chosen people is somewhat similar to the Nazi claim of Germans being superior people. The Nazi ideology held that Germany had the right to reclaim its lost territories. Zionists intend to reclaim the lost territories of the Jews. Zionism stresses that Jews should return to Israel while Nazism stresses that ethnicity is based on descent and homeland.

These are all common themes in nationalism, even the superiority thinking, so the parallels are not very telling. And there is at least one difference Zionism and Nazism. Even though Israel committed war crimes like most parties do in armed conflicts, Zionists did not exterminate the Palestinians or any other people so far. The situation in Israel and Palestine can be compared with apartheid in South Africa.

Some Zionists claim that anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism. If the anti-Semitism is about denying Jews the right to their own state in Israel then this is reasonable as this implies expelling millions of people. But if the anti-Zionism applies to opposing the colonisation of Palestinian land in violation of international law there is no reasonable ground for such a claim. It isn’t always clear what is meant.

Arab anti-Zionism is sometimes called Islamic anti-Semitism. Before Jews migrated into Palestine there was no Islamic anti-Semitism. After Israel was founded, Jews were expelled from several Arab countries. Many Arabs and Muslims believe that Jews have the right to a state but not on land they consider their own. That is not anti-Semitism.

Islamic anti-Semitism emerged when Arab anti-Zionists took over existing anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. There are tensions between Arabs and Jews living in Europe and Jews are harassed. The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is often blamed for that. Only Jews living in Europe aren’t part of that conflict. They do not occupy land Arabs claim so this can be called anti-Semitism. But colonists on the West Bank are harassing Palestinians and destroying their property too. As Arabs are Semites too this can be called Jewish anti-Semitism.

If denying the Jews a homeland is reprehensible then the same is true for denying the Palestinians their own state and colonising their land. If international law still has any meaning then a peace settlement would be based on the 1967 borders. Preferably relocations are minimised, meaning that Jews can live in the Palestinian state while Palestinians can live in the Jewish state. That is possible once there is a climate of mutual respect and friendship. Sadly, hatred takes at least a generation to subside so a pragmatic solution may need to be found to bridge that period.

Control of the media and opinion

In 2012 six major corporations own 90% of the mainstream media in the United States. Most of large media corporations in the United States have Jewish CEOs and owners. Journalists are often Jewish too. Philip Weiss noted from his 30 years of experience in journalism that Jews made up the majority of the important positions in the publications he worked for. Weiss contends that this may have implications for the way the news is covered, most notably if it pertains to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as Jews feel a pressure to support Israel or at least not to betray Israel.6

On the other hand J.J. Goldberg wrote in The Forward that, although Jews do hold many prominent positions in the US media, they do not make a high priority of Jewish concerns and that Jewish Americans generally perceive the media as anti-Israel.7 That suggests that with fewer Jews in journalism not much will change about the reporting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the United States.

And what about the Jews dominating Hollywood? Joel Stein of the Los Angeles Times mocked the efforts of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which is another part of the Israel Lobby, to misinform the American public:

I have never been so upset by a poll in my life. Only 22% of Americans now believe “the movie and television industries are pretty much run by Jews,” down from nearly 50% in 1965. The Anti-Defamation League, which released the poll results last month, sees in these numbers a victory against stereotyping. Actually, it just shows how dumb America has gotten. Jews totally run Hollywood.8

The Internet is more difficult to control. Anti-Semitic as well as anti-Zionist messages can be found on many message boards. Efforts are made to counter that with pro-Israel messages on social media using students on Israeli university campuses.9 It is part of a general and continuous public relations effort called Hasbara that some call propaganda.

In October 2007 about 300 academics issued a statement calling for academic freedom from political pressure, in particular from groups portraying themselves as defenders of Israel. In 2009, after sociology professor William Robinson sent an email to students comparing the Israeli occupation of Gaza with the Nazi-controlled Warsaw Ghetto during World War II, the ADL started a campaign to discipline him for violating the faculty code of conduct.

Linguistics professor Noam Chomsky said during an interview that the ADL had compiled a 150-page dossier on him, apparently to find information it could use against him. Chomsky told that an ADL insider sent him the file. It included conversations, correspondence and other materials.10 Chomsky said that it read like an FBI file. He further noted that:

It’s hard to nail this down in a court of law, but it’s clear they essentially have spies in classrooms who take notes and send them to the ADL and other organisations. The groups then compile dossiers they can use to condemn, attack or remove faculty members. They’re like J. Edgar Hoover’s files. It’s kind of gutter stuff.10

Causing wars and revolutions

The French revolutionaries decided that Catholics, Protestants and Jews all became full members of society. In 1797 and 1798 a French Jesuit and a Scottish physicist published two remarkably similar books. Both claimed that secret societies were undermining the social order and had started the French Revolution. Both pointed at the Freemasons and the Illuminati as the main culprits. Jews were also seen as conspirators. Much of contemporary conspiracy thinking still centres around Illuminati, Freemasons and Jews.

A more recent allegation is that Jews were behind the Russian Communist Revolution of 1917. The idea was introduced by the anti-communist forces during the Russian Civil War that followed the revolution in an effort to make use of existing anti-Semitic sentiments. The allegation was taken over the Nazis in Germany. There was a high number of Jewish Communist party leaders during the revolution. The anti-Semitism in the Russian Empire may have prompted Jews to join radical political movements.

That doesn’t explain why many Jews joined radical movements in other countries too. Milton Friedman tried to shed some light on this issue. He found that a significant part of the revolutionary anti-capitalist literature has been written by Jews and that Communist parties in many countries were run and manned to a disproportionate extent by Jews.11

Friedman didn’t believe that Jews are seeking world domination. He gave two reasons as to why Jews have been attracted to radical movements. First, the left provided the Jews with equal citizenship while the Christian right did not. Second, the stereotype that Jews are profiteers and usurers may have persuaded them to show themselves and the anti-Semites that they are not selfish and heartless, but public-spirited and idealistic.11

A group of Marxists called the Frankfurt School felt that social change using Hegel’s dialectic is possible if you are critical of your research and check how theories work out in practice. This may be correct but doing experiments with people involves serious moral issues. Social experiments can harm the fabric of society. Marxists tend to be hostile to religion and have aimed to overthrow the existing capitalist social order. After it turned out that their economic experiment wasn’t successful, Marxists switched to trying to liberate suppressed groups.

The Cultural Marxism conspiracy theory alleges that the Frankfurt School aims to undermine Western civilisation using civil rights movements, feminism, Islam, spreading LGTB propaganda, and pop-music, causing a breakdown of traditional Christian family values. The traditional values that are under attack often disdain the people that the Marxists aim to liberate. Several prominent people from the Frankfurt School were Jews so Jews are sometimes blamed for Cultural Marxism too.

Some of the recent wars in the Middle East can be attributed, at least to some extent, to the neoconservatives. Their ideology can be seen as a practical implication of The Clash of Civilisations of Samuel Huntington. Huntington stated that Western nations will lose predominance if they fail to recognise the irreconcilable nature of cultural tensions. Huntington believed that Islam is a fundamental problem for the West.12

Leo Strauss was the founder of American neoconservatism. He proposed a restoration of the vital ideas underpinning Western civilisation such as classical Greek philosophy and the Judeo-Christian heritage and he promoted faith in the moral purpose of the West. Huntington was more cynical about the moral purpose of the West as he wrote:

The West won the world not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion […] but rather by its superiority in applying organised violence. Westerners often forget this fact; non-Westerners never do.12

Both Huntington and Strauss were Jews while the neoconservatives are a predominantly Jewish movement. Neoconservatives advocate the promotion of democracy and the American national interest in international affairs, often by military force.

The Jewish connection, combined with the neoconservatives being preoccupied with the Middle East and Islam, gave rise to the suspicion that the wars they promoted were for the benefit of Israel. In the run up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Jewish neoconservatives were accused of dual loyalty. The controversy continues because of the neoconservative stance towards Iran, Israel’s main adversary. The response of the Israel Lobby was to accuse people who raised these issues of anti-Semitism.

Blood Libel 2.0

In 2009 the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet ran an article about Israeli organ harvesting with the sensationalist headline ‘Our sons are plundered of their organs’. The allegations bore some similarity to the blood libel. Dead Palestinian children had been returned to their families by the Israeli army with organs missing.13 In the 1990s skin, corneas, heart valves and bones from deceased Israelis, Palestinians and foreigners had been taken without permission.14

Organ trafficking is widespread. China, India, Pakistan, Egypt, Brazil, the Philippines, Moldavia, and Romania are among the world’s leading providers of trafficked organs. In China organs have been harvested from political prisoners. Trafficked organs are either sold domestically or exported to be transplanted into patients from the US, Europe, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and especially Israel.15 Israel faces a shortage of organ donors because Jewish religious law requires the body to be intact in burial.16

But organ trade isn’t murder. It can save lives. For poor people the choice may come down to selling a child or selling an organ. Not allowing organ sales may make their situation even more miserable. Stealing organs from the dead is reprehensible because the deceased nor the family have given permission. These practises may have existed in Israel on a wider scale even though they probably have ended by now. It is at least telling that a stolen heart may have been used in Israel’s first successful heart transplant.17

Allegiance

The allegiance of Jews has been a theme in anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. As is the case with every minority, there is always the question of allegiance. Most minorities don’t have a lot of influence so their allegiance isn’t a big issue, but Jews have a lot of power in the United States. In his book By Way of Deception Victor Ostrovsky, a former operative for the Israeli intelligence service Mossad, claimed that the Mossad recruits helpers among the Jews outside Israel for its operations.18

One of the most well-known helpers was Jonathan Pollard. He sold a large number of classified US documents to Israel. He also sold documents to South Africa and attempted to sell documents to Pakistan. Many highly sensitive documents stolen by Pollard have been handed over to the Soviet Union, putting the lives of US intelligence assets at risk. A few other cases of Israeli espionage in the United States attracted publicity, such as the arrest of former AIPAC officials Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman.

The intriguing coincidences surrounding the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 keep conspiracy theorists busy. Allegations have been made that Al Qaeda received financial support from Saudi officials and that investigations into this matter were blocked via high-level interference from Washington because Saudi Arabia was an ally of the United States. Also Israel often features in 9/11 conspiracy theories.

A New York housewife spotted five Israelis filming the attacks on the World Trade Center from a rooftop. She noted that they were already there just after the first strike had hit the Twin Towers. The Israelis were dancing and appeared to be full of joy as the World Trade Center burned and crumbled. They were arrested with $4700 in cash, foreign passports and a pair of box cutters of the type used by the hijackers. Two of them were Mossad agents. The FBI believed they were spying on Islamic extremist networks.19

The FBI interrogated them for weeks and concluded that there was no evidence of them having foreknowledge of the attacks. But the Israelis were uncooperative so it wasn’t possible to extract a lot of information out of them. Later some of these men discussed the events on an Israeli talk show. One of them said: “We come from a country that experiences terror daily. Our purpose was to document the event.” It suggests that the Mossad knew what was going to happen and that Israel didn’t inform the United States because Israel could benefit from the attacks.19

Control of the United States government

A Christian desire for returning the Jews to the Holy Land has promoted the Zionist cause. Some Christians believe that the gathering of the Jews in Israel is a prerequisite for the Second Coming of Jesus. This is a reason for a strong support for Israel amongst Evangelical Christians. Republican candidates need their support. Jews often support Democratic candidates so that Democrats pay good attention to their Jewish voters. In this way strong support for Israel in both political parties is ensured.

The United States political system is corrupt by design. To get an office, politicians need a lot of money for their campaigns. In this way corporations and wealthy individuals can buy influence. Wealthy Jews generously donate to political campaigns. In 2006, 60% of the Democratic Party’s fundraising and 25% of that for the Republican Party’s fundraising came from Jewish-funded Political Action Committees.

Several Jews found their way into influential positions in the United States government. In 1994 the Israeli paper Ma´ariv wrote that the Clinton Administration allowed more Jews in sensitive positions than any government before. The article noted that the Jews in Clinton’s government were not a design, but that their achievements had brought them there. Jewish power in the Democratic government was huge but there were also Jews heading for top positions in the Republican Party, for example Paul Wolfowitz.20

Wolfowitz was one of the neoconservatives, a political movement whose ideology played a significant role in American policies after 11 September 2001. In 2000 he was one of the supporters of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) which promoted the removal of Saddam Hussein. After 11 September 2001, the PNAC pushed for an attack on Iraq. The security of Israel played a role in the considerations of the neoconservatives but there is little evidence that the Iraq war was principally fought for Israel.

Mearsheimer and Walt wrote that pro-Israel figures have established a commanding presence at the American Enterprise Institute, the Center for Security Policy, the Foreign Policy Research Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Hudson Institute, the Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis, and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, and that these think tanks are all decidedly pro-Israel.4

In most cases the US supports the position of Israel but there are a few instances in which the US government did not. The Eisenhower administration forced Israel to withdraw from the Sinai after the Suez Crisis. The administration of Bush sr. delayed support to Israel because of the settlements issue. The Israeli government and the Obama administration differed on the settlements issue and how to deal with Iran. In those cases the Israel Lobby organised resistance in Congress and the Senate.

Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion cover
Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion cover

The irony of history or God’s peculiar sense of humour

Perhaps the Protocols of the Elders of Zion are worth reading after all, just to see how the most bizarre conspiracy theories can appear convincing if you look at the evidence. If the protocols had been for real the situation in the United States today may not have been very different. There is no grand conspiracy of Jews aiming for world domination. But what difference does it make? This is the irony of history and perhaps God’s peculiar sense of humour. And so Manny Friedman came to write in the Times Of Israel:

We have, for example, AIPAC, which was essentially constructed just to drive agenda in Washington DC. And it succeeds admirably. And we brag about it. Again, it’s just what we do. But the funny part is when any anti-Semite or anti-Israel person starts to spout stuff like, “The Jews control the media!” and “The Jews control Washington!” Suddenly we’re up in arms. We create huge campaigns to take these people down. We do what we can to put them out of work.21

So perhaps the Israel Lobby has taken some advice from the protocols:

And let’s not forget AIPAC, every anti-Semite’s favourite punching bag. We’re talking an organisation that’s practically the equivalent of the Elders of Zion. I’ll never forget when I was involved in Israeli advocacy in college and being at one of the many AIPAC conventions. A man literally stood in front of us and told us that their whole goal was to only work with top-50 school graduate students because they would eventually be the people making changes in the government.21

Then Friedman draws the following remarkable conclusion:

The truth is, the anti-Semites got it right. We Jews have something planted in each one of us that makes us completely different from every group in the world. We’re talking about a group of people that just got put in death camps, endured pogroms, their whole families decimated. And then they came to America, the one place that ever really let them have as much power as they wanted, and suddenly they’re taking over. Please don’t tell me that any other group in the world has ever done that. Only the Jews. And we’ve done it before. That’s why the Jews were enslaved in Egypt. We were too successful. Go look at the Torah — it’s right there. And we did it in Germany too.21

This is the personal opinion of a Jewish writer, but there is little doubt that he made his comments in good spirit with regard to his fellow Jews. And he doesn’t appear to be a fool. An important clue with regard to the secret of the success of the Jews can be found in his conclusion. Jews always lived at the margin and had to be resourceful to survive. These skills may have become part of Jewish culture so that Jews came out on top once they could operate without restrictions. It suggests that if these restrictions remain lifted, measures are taken to end usury (interest) and political corruption, and Jews fully integrate into the societies they live in, the issue could disappear over time.

Now let’s get back to the joke. What if Israel becomes a state of the United States? It might solve a lot of issues. The allegiance of Jews living in the United States would be to the United States. Israel can make peace with the Palestinians and give up land without fearing for its survival as the United States will defend it. Most Americans are willing to support Israel unconditionally so why not? And Israel will have only two senators from then on. It may never come to that but it can be a useful idea to entertain, perhaps for a limited period of time until peaceful conditions in the Middle East have prevailed. And that may be sooner than most people expect.

Featured image: Blame Jews For Everything For Dummies. Found on Reuvera.hubpages.com. [copyright info]

1. The Bible’s Prehistory, Purpose and Political Future. Jacob L. Wright (2014). Coursera.org. [transcript]
2. Practising Tolerance in a Religious Society: The Church and the Jews in Italy. Bernard Dov Cooperman (2014). Coursera.org. [transcript]
3. Matthew 27:24-25
4. The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy. John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt (2006). London Review of Books.
5. Usury, Destroyer of Nations. S.C. Mooney (1988). Theopolis.
6. Do Jews Dominate in American Media? And So What If We Do? Philip Weiss (2008). Mondoweiss.net. [link]
7. Jewish power: inside the American Jewish establishment. Goldberg J.J. (1997). Basic Books. pp. 280–281.
8. Who runs Hollywood? C’mon. Joel Stein (2008). Los Angeles Times. [link]
9. Israel to pay students to defend it online. USA Today (2013). [link]
10. Israel lobby descends on UC-Santa Barbara. Committee To Defend Academic Freedom at UCSB. [link]
11. Capitalism and the Jews. Miltion Friedman (1988). Foundation For Economic Education. [link]
12. The Clash of Civilizations. Samuel P. Huntington (1996). Simon & Schuster.
13. “Our sons are plundered of their organs”. Donald Boström (2009). Aftonbladet. [link]
14. Israel harvested organs without permission, officials say. Kevin Flower and Guy Azriel (2009). CNN. [link]
15. Organ trafficking: a fast-expanding black market. Janes Defence & Security Intelligence (2008).
16. A mitzvah called organ donation. Efrat Shapira-Rosenberg (2007). Ynetnews. [link]
17. 40 Years After Israel’s First Transplant, Donor’s Family Says His Heart Was Stolen. Dana Weiler-Polak (2008). Haaretz. [link]
18. By Way of Deception: The Making and Unmaking of a Mossad Officer. Victor Ostrovsky (1990). St. Martin’s Press.
19. Five Israelis were seen filming as jet liners ploughed into the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001. The Scotland Herald (2003). [link]
20. The Jews Who Run Clinton’s Court. Avinoam Bar-Yosef (1994). Maariv.
21. Jews DO control the media. Manny Friedman (2012). Times of Israel. [link]

Liberal democracy

A definition

Democracies are often called liberal democracies. So what is a liberal democracy and why might it be the best way of government? There are no easy answers to these questions nor is there agreement on these matters. Liberalism emphasises the value of individuals while democracy is rule by majority. These two principles can be at odds.

Liberal democracies have elections between multiple political parties, a separation of powers into different branches of government, the rule of law in everyday life, an open society, a market economy with private property, the protection of human rights, civil rights, civil liberties and political freedoms for everyone.1

Liberals believe that individuals and social groups have conflicts of interest. The social order must deal with these conflicts and resolve them in a peaceful manner. To achieve such a feat, all parties must be reasonable and there should be a balance of powers. No party should be able to force its will upon others.2 It is an important reason why liberals stress the importance of individual rights.

Democracy means that government decisions require the consent of the majority of the citizens. In most cases the citizens elect a parliament that does the decision making for them. Sometimes citizens can vote for individual proposals in referendums. In reality many democratic countries aren’t fully democratic because not all government decisions are supported by a majority of the citizens.

Principles

Liberal democracy is based on a social contract, which is an agreement amongst the members of society to cooperate for mutual benefits. For instance, labourers may accept capitalism if they get a share of prosperity. That deal turned out to be more attractive than state ownership of the means of production.

Liberalism has two principles that can be at odds, namely non-interference with people’s lives and realising everyone’s potential. In this vein there are two branches of liberalism:

  • Economic liberalism promotes freedom of the markets as well as free trade and claims that the state should be of minimal size and not interfere with people’s lives.
  • Social liberalism claims that the state should help to realise the potential of people by promoting their freedom to make choices, which includes ending poverty.

Each liberal democracy more or less embraces these values. Liberal democracies come with a market economy and respect for the rights of individual citizens. Governments interfere with the lives of people and try to promote their happiness and to realise their potential. The conflicting nature of both principles makes liberal democracies differ with regard to freedom of markets and government interference.

In the United States liberalism has a different meaning. There it is another word for social liberalism or democratic socialism. In Europe the definition of liberalism is broader and this is also the definition used here. In the 17th century liberal ideas began to emerge in what is called the European Enlightenment. Around the year 1700 the philosopher John Locke came up with the following basic principles for a liberal state:

  • a social contract in which citizens accept the authority of the state in exchange for the protection of their rights and property and maintaining the social order;
  • consent of the governed, which means that state power is only justified when the people agree;
  • separation of church and state, which means that the state doesn’t favour a specific religion and does not require a religious justification.3

Is it the best form of government?

Liberal democracy is part of the European cultural heritage. Proponents claim that it is the best form of government. These universalist claims are sometimes contested on the ground that they are a form of western cultural imperialism. Another argument is that there is no guarantee that liberal democracy leads to better decisions. From a religious perspective people argue that our Creator may prefer a different kind of social order and government, possibly even a theocracy.

The argument in favour of the universalist claims is that liberal democracy emerged out of a historical process that took centuries in which rational arguments played a decisive role. The European Enlightenment challenged existing practices in government on the basis of reason. Ideas that emerged out of the European Enlightenment were tried out in different ways and refined further. Europeans also invested heavily in educating their citizens. This produced a culture of reason and compromise as well as a massive body of practical experience and best practises.

There is also no guarantee that other forms of government lead to better decisions. In an open society better information can be available so well-educated citizens in a culture of reason and compromise may make better decisions. There are a few democracies that live up to these expectations so it can work out that way. And we may not be able to determine what kind of order God desires. If our Creator is all-powerful then the emergence and spread of liberal democracy may not be a mere coincidence. It may be God’s plan.

One of the biggest problems facing liberal democracy is high expectations. Liberal democracy itself does not guarantee a reliable government that is both efficient and effective nor does it ensure a flourishing economy. This has led to disappointments. A failed and corrupt government can’t simply be turned into a success by allowing elections. Liberal democracy works best with a well-educated population in a culture of reason and compromise that doesn’t allow for corruption and abuse of power.

On the moral front there are a few issues too. Liberal democracy promises equal treatment for all people. In reality people aren’t treated equal nor do they have equal opportunities. There is discrimination based on ethnicity, gender or sexual preferences. And poor people have fewer opportunities than rich people. Still, the goal of equal treatment and equal opportunities can be something to strive for. It may be better to aim for such these and fail from time to than not having them at all.

If liberalism promotes tolerance then how to deal to intolerant people? Should their intolerance be tolerated? If people do not accept liberal values, should they be educated or should these values be imposed? And are free markets the best way of organising the economy or is government involvement advised? If the economy is served by stability, should dissent that causes instability be suppressed? An excessive or unnecessary use of force can undermine the foundation of liberal democracy because liberal democracy is based on reason and convincing people with arguments.

History

Liberalism emerged in Europe during the sixteenth century. At the time Europe was ravaged by devastating religious wars. After several decades of warfare Europeans grew tired of the conflict and began to tolerate religious differences. Some catholic countries accepted protestant minorities while many protestant countries accepted catholic minorities. Germany was almost equally divided. At the time Germany consisted of small states that had either protestant or catholic rulers.

This religious tolerance was at first more or less an uneasy truce. No party had been able to gain the upper hand. Religious minorities at first didn’t receive equal rights. They were only tolerated. Over time the case for religious tolerance became more widely accepted. It was based on two major arguments.

  • The argument of ignorance which states that only God knows who is on the right path and who is doomed so humans shouldn’t judge others.
  • The argument of perversity which states that cruelty is at odds with Christian values and that religious persecution strengthens the resolve of the persecuted.1

The concept of tolerance expanded into a general concern for the rights of individual citizens. In the 17th century liberal ideas were spreading. The Glorious Revolution of 1688 in England limited the power of the king. The rights of individuals were written down in the Bill of Rights. Parliament became the most powerful political institution based on the principle of consent of the governed. The 1776 Declaration of Independence of the United States was based on liberal principles too. It states that all men are created equal and have certain unalienable rights like life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.2

The founding fathers of the United States were also early liberals. The United States Constitution reflects this view. The aim of the United States Constitution is, amongst others, to safeguard the rights of individuals against the state. A large group of Americans believe that individual rights should prevail against democratically elected governments. The widespread support for gun ownership in the United States comes from a distrust of the state as a protector of life, liberty and possessions.

Democracy had not been a seriously considered since classical antiquity. It was believed that democracies are inherently unstable and chaotic due to the changing whims of the people.1 The violence during the French Revolution supported these views. It began as a popular uprising incited by liberal ideas but it soon turned into chaos and bloodshed. Order was restored by a despot ruler named Napoleon Bonaparte who did much to spread liberal reforms throughout Europe by ending the feudal system, emancipating religious minorities and imposing a liberal code of law. The spread of liberal ideas proved to be lasting and democracy was to follow a century later.

The Industrial Revolution started a period of accelerated and constant change that was disastrous for many who found themselves on the losing side. The ruling class changed. Nobility was replaced by a new elite of business people. The position of craftsmen was undermined by factories. And workers in factories laboured under miserable conditions for low wages. There were three major ways of confronting these changes:

  • Conservatives tried to hold on the old order of community, religion and nobility.
  • Socialists tried to overturn the elite of business people by giving power to workers.
  • Liberals tried to manage the change, thereby implicitly supporting the order in which business people were the ruling class.

Liberalism often coincides with the interests of business people. These people had possessions and some were rich. They feared that the poor might vote for handing over their possessions to the poor. Socialism became the embodiment of this fear. Liberals were at first inclined to limit the right to vote to people who pay taxes because this excluded poor people from voting. When the threat of socialism became subdued and socialists were willing to compromise, liberals came to accept democracy based on the principle of one person one vote.

In the 19th century European countries held vast colonial empires. These colonies were kept for profit. It was generally believed that the people in these colonies had to be educated before they would be able to govern themselves. The colonial era helped to modernise these countries and most Europeans at the time believed that the oppression and the economic exploitation were justified on these grounds. There were only a few dissenters, for instance the Dutch writer Multatuli.

Liberal democracy faced a few major crises like World War I, the Great Depression and World War II. World War I demonstrated that liberal democracy and free trade weren’t a guarantee for peace and stability. The Great Depression once again challenged liberal democracy as the Soviet Union remained unaffected while Nazi Germany was able to recover and achieve full employment while other countries were still struggling. And during World War II Nazi Germany overran most democratic countries in Europe.

After World War II the European colonies became independent. The Soviet Union came to dominate Eastern Europe and China became a communist country. The United States became the protector of liberal democracy but also a number of dictatorships. This era is called the Cold War and it lasted until the Soviet Union dismantled itself after allowing the peoples of Eastern Europe to make their own choices. Major challengers of liberal democracy nowadays are the one-party system in China and political Islam.

The citizens of Hong Kong and Taiwan don’t like to loose their freedoms. Chinese too probably prefer freedom if they have a choice. And the Islamic State has shown Muslims all around the globe that political Islam can easily turn into a reign of terror. The foundations of liberal democracy may be strong, but a collapse of the global economy may turn be a more serious threat to liberal democracy than the alternatives. Reason can easily disappear once people become angry.

Reasons for success and limitations

The success of liberal democracy is not a historical necessity. Liberal democracy might never have been invented or dictatorships could have gained the upper hand. That didn’t happen. Communist and fascist dictatorships came and went. Perhaps liberal democracy is a temporary phenomenon but we can’t know that now. Only the future can tell. There are a number of causes that might explain the strength of liberal democracy.

  • Liberal democracy is based on the consent of the governed so it is has the consent of the governed by default while other forms of government do not.
  • Science greatly contributes to the success of states and science is best served with an open debate that liberal democracy provides.
  • The economy greatly contributes to the success of states and the economy is best served with individual rights that liberal democracy provides.

A despot ruler or a ruling party in a one-party system might have the consent of its subjects, but if not, only force remains for the ruler or the party to maintain power. Liberal democracies usually resolve such issues peacefully through elections, making liberal democracy more stable by default. Intellectual freedom is helpful to science while economic freedom is helpful for the economy, so liberal democracy can be a potent force. Only when leadership is required, liberal democracy might not always be adequate.

Liberalism has no higher moral value than the individual, which is peculiar because the individual human is an insignificant part of this universe. And individualism may be at odds with human nature as humans are social animals. Humans are not atomic beings that choose to cooperate for mutual benefit like liberalism supposes. Human cooperation is based on moral codes that are enforced.

It is the success in cooperation that makes a society win out. Liberalism gives a framework for living together in peace as long as all major parties are reasonable and willing to compromise. This makes larger scale cooperation possible and that can make a society successful. For instance, the United States integrated people from different cultural backgrounds, which contributed to the success of the United States as a nation.

It is said that history is written by the victors. Strength may be the reason why liberal democracy prevailed. Liberal philosophers have tried to provide a moral justification for liberal democracy or they may have opposed it or they may have tried to improve it. Liberal democracy emerged out of thought and action, experiment and failure, and it was a process that took centuries. Philosophers like Locke contributed to its success as they set out the goals people could strife for.

Apart from individualism, liberal societies lack a higher purpose. From a scientific viewpoint there is no higher purpose to this universe. The moral codes humans live by are not more than an agreement. Only when this universe is created for a purpose there is a reason for our existence. But moral individualism can be dangerous. The challenges humanity is currently facing, most notably living within the limits of this planet, most likely requires making individuals subject to a higher causes like the survival of humanity and caring for the planet.

1. Liberal democracy. Wikipedia.
2. Liberalism: The Life of an Idea. Edmund Fawcett (2015). Princeton University Press.
3. History of liberalism. Wikipedia.

Currency

Self determination

To most people currency means government issued money used within a nation or a group of nations. US dollars, Chinese yuan, Korean won and Brazilian real are all currencies. Currency is important for political and economic self-determination. A national currency allows nations to pursue their own economic policies, although the options are constrained by global economic forces.

Local or regional currencies can supplement national currencies, most notably when communities or regions want to achieve a higher degree economic independence. Supranational currencies like the euro reduce can economic independence. To maintain some political and economic independence in an increasingly integrated world, currency is key. For that reason currency is more of a political subject than an economic one.

Reserve currency

Reserve currencies facilitate international trade. In the past decades the US dollar was the most used reserve currency. This arrangement allowed the United States to enjoy a higher standard of living and have a large military paid for by foreign nations. That is because the United States can print US dollars and other countries accept them as payment.

This arrangement gave foreign nations a competitive advantage. By buying US dollars for their currency reserves, competitors of the United States were able to suppress the exchange rate of their own currency and sell their products cheaper. This harmed US exports and it allowed other countries like China and Japan to build up their industries.

The reserve status of the US Dollar made the FED responsible for the international financial system. The FED had to rescue foreign banks during the financial crisis of 2008 so that US taxpayers ended up backing foreign banks. The FED probably had no other choice because if the FED hadn’t acted, the global financial system might have collapsed.

International Currency Unit

For that reason it may be better to have an international reserve currency that is not a national currency. The future International Currency Unit (ICU) can be a weighted average of national currencies. It may require an international central bank to guarantee stability in the international financial system. As long as central banks make decisions that have significant consequences, an international central bank will be a troublesome construct.

Only when central banks do not set interest rates and do not print currency, it might be feasible to introduce an International Central Bank (ICB). For that the ICU as well as the underlying national currencies may need to be a Natural Money currencies. Natural Money currencies require little or no central bank oversight as financial instability is the result of usury. Furthermore, with Natural Money central banks do not set interest rates.

50 euro
50 euro

The euro

The euro is an interesting experiment because it is a currency shared by a group of nation. The nations of the euro zone are sovereign but have given up their national currencies. Initially it was thought that the European Union would become a federation like the United States with a strong centralised government bureaucracy. But history took a different turn, and the European nations remained sovereign while the size of the centralised European institutions remained small compared to the United States.

The euro produced political and economic tensions. Previously, when every nation had its own currency, the differences in competitiveness between countries could be dealt with via exchange rates of their national currencies. If a country could not compete and exports were outstripping imports, the exchange rate of its currency could be lowered so that exports would become cheaper while imports would become more expensive. In this way the country could remain competitive in international markets.

Apart from the economic issues, there are also political concerns. People in Northern Europe feel that they pay for the debts of Southern Europe while people in Southern Europe feel that they are faced with austerity dictated by Northern European countries. The available options appear making the eurozone a federation like the United States or reverting back to national currencies. The benefit of a larger currency like the euro more efficient financial markets and lower interest rates.

If their government budgets are sustainable then Southern European countries can benefit from these low interest rates. Returning to national currencies doesn’t have to be the end of the euro either. National currencies can be introduced alongside the euro. Existing balances in euro will then remain in euro. The euro can be a weighted average of the national currencies making up the euro zone. This would make the euro look like the proposed ICU. It could be a step towards introducing an ICU and the ICB.

Private currencies and cryptocurrencies

Private currencies are not issued by a government or central bank. Proponents of private currencies like cryptocurrencies promise that they can provide an alternative payment system independent from governments and banks as well as an alternative way to issue stock. They believe that private currencies like cryptocurrencies can supplement or even replace existing currencies issued by governments and central banks.

Currency is important for political self-determination. For that reason governments have usurped the prerogative to issue currencies. Private currencies can undermine the power of governments, hence nations. Cryptocurrencies can facilitate crime, scams and tax evasion, so they their use is likely to become regulated or even banned in the future. Governments may also start to issue cryptocurrencies themselves.

Until now cryptocurrencies have not been stable. Payments in these currencies are cumbersome and only attractive when there is no regular payment system. Financial markets in these currencies are non-existing. A currency most allow for debts denominated in this currency. It must be easy to lend or borrow money in financial markets. And if the interest rate in the market is negative, then the currency must facilitate this, otherwise the economy may be disrupted.

Local currencies

During the Great Depression in the 1930s the Austrian town of Wörgl issued a local currency with a holding fee, which worked like a negative interest rate. The ‘miracle of Wörgl’ suggests that negative interest rates could have prevented or ended the Great Depression. The miracle also revealed something else. It was not possible to use the local currency outside Wörgl and because of the holding fee people spent it so the economy of Wörgl improved while the Great Depression intensified elsewhere.

The local currency allowed Wörgl to achieve a degree of economic independence. In the midst of a worsening depression the local economy improved so that unemployment dropped. It demonstrates that currency can be important for local, regional and national self-determination. If international markets fail to help a municipality, region or nation, it may be able to help itself with the use of a currency.

The Wörgl money was an complementary currency that circulated alongside the Austrian currency. It has been tried to copy the idea but only a few times it has been a great success. If the economy is doing well then a complementary currency often makes little sense. And complementary currencies often depend on a the commitment of the local people to the well-being of their municipality or region to the point that they prefer local or regional products simply for the reason that this promotes the local or regional economy.

Disconnecting from international markets can allow a municipality, region or nation to build its own economy but local products may provide less value for money than products from international markets. When the disadvantages of free trade outstrip the benefits then that is justifiable. Many successful national development stories include shielding national markets from international competition in order to build up a national industry. Once a country becomes developed and wealthy, the justification for trade barriers disappears, as they deny people the benefits of better or cheaper products from abroad.

Featured image: 50 pula bank note. Bank of Botswana.

 

Morality clause

Legal is not always fair

What is legal isn’t always fair. The role of morality in law may be too small. People have different views about what is right and what is wrong so the prevailing liberal view in many Western societies is that people should be free to do as they please unless their actions harm others. Even that view can justify a greater role of ethics in law as humanity is on suicidal path. If moral views converge in the future the role for ethics in law can grow.

For now we need to focus on what is most important as we could easily get trapped in issues of secondary importance. Moral issues can be contentious and people reason according to their beliefs and political views. The following arguments people with different political views use against each other illustrate that:

  • Leftists might be concerned with the rights of criminals in jail but not of the rights of unborn children who are innocent of any crime.
  • Conservatives might be concerned with the fate of unborn children but as soon as they are born in misery their compassion suddenly vanishes.

It is easy to simplify matters in this way. This is how issues are framed. And as soon as you are dragged into a dispute it is hard to stay moderate. Moral issues are often complicated. Euthanasia can be an act of compassion but it can be turned into a way of getting rid of undesired people. Perhaps criminals have had a poor life and never realised that they had a choice but making them suffer can give victims a sense of justice.

Leftists and conservatives have different moral views and can be passionate about them. This is difference of opinion rather than an absence of morals from one or both sides. Rational debates might help to clarify these matters and balance the laws on these issues.

In some areas ethics are needed urgently. Research has shown that CEO is the job with the highest rate of psychopaths while lawyer comes in second,1 possibly because traders in financial markets were not included in the survey. Media came in third because it was a British research. Salespeople make a rather unsurprising fourth position.

Vulture capitalism

Rural areas in the United States are turning into an economic wasteland. Closed down factories and empty malls dominate the landscape. Communities are ravaged and drug abuse is on the rise. One reason for this to happen is that jobs are shipped overseas. Several factors contributed to this situation, but a major cause is CEOs not caring for people and communities. In many cases other solutions were possible.

Paul Singer is wealthy hedge fund owner. He made a fortune by buying up sovereign debt of countries in trouble such as Argentina and Peru at bargain prices and starting lawsuits and public relation campaigns against those countries to make a profit on these debts at the expense of the taxpayers of these countries.2

In the United States Singer bought up stakes of corporations in distress. He then fired workers so that the price of his shares rose. In the case of Delphi Automotive he and other hedge fund managers took out government bailouts, moved jobs overseas, and cut the retirement packages of employees so they could make a huge profit.2

Vulture capitalists prey on patients too. They buy patents on old drugs that are the standard treatment for rare life-threatening diseases, then raise the price because there is no alternative. Martin Shkreli was responsible for a 6,250% price hike for the anti-retroviral drug Daraprim. Many people died because of his actions.3 Perhaps he should be in jail for being a mass murderer but he is not because what he did is legal.

Profiteering at the expense of the public

In the years preceding the financial crisis of 2008 there was a widespread mortgage fraud going on in the United States. Few people have gone to jail because much of what happened was morally reprehensible but legal. Financial executives and quite a few academics share this view.4 And so nothing was done. Perhaps fraud can be proven some day but that may take years if it ever succeeds.

Healthcare is another domain for fraudsters and unscrupulous corporations. Patients are often not in a position to bargain. Perhaps that is why privatised healthcare performs poorly compared to government organised healthcare. In 2015 the Dutch government introduced the Social Support Act, making municipalities responsible for assisting people who are unable to arrange the care and support they need themselves.5

The municipalities were ill-prepared so fraudsters took advantage of the situation. Most businesses are legitimate but several private contractors enrich themselves at the expense of taxpayers and people in need. The Dutch prosecution is overwhelmed by fraud cases and it is not always possible to get a conviction because of loopholes in the law. Until these loopholes are fixed, several schemes remain legal.6

In the United States hospital bills are feared. A routine doctor visit for a sore throat can result in a $ 28,000 medical bill.7 And so many people in the US go without healthcare because they can’t afford it. Efforts to reform healthcare in the US haven’t succeeded, perhaps because those who send $ 28,000 bills for sore throats have plenty of money to bribe politicians into keeping the US healthcare system as it is.

Attributes of the law

First we have to recognise why it is so hard to prevent these things from happening. On the political front it is because once politicians are elected, they can do as they please until the next election. Lobbyists prey on them. Citizens have few means of correcting politicians, except in Switzerland. The Swiss have direct democracy. Swiss citizens can intervene in the political process when they see fit and fix laws if they think that is needed. Direct democracy might help to fix many of these issues.

Laws are often made with the best intentions but it is not possible to test them in a simulation to see how they will work out in practice. So once laws are enacted, unexpected problems pop up. The process of law-making is slow and it can take years before issues are fixed, at least if they are fixed at all because law-making is often political process, and that can make it rather complicated.

Even more importantly, the underlying principles of law benefit the savvy. The system of law is the way it is for good reasons. No-one should be above the law and people as well as businesses should not be subject to arbitrariness. The rule of law implies that every person is subject to the law, including lawmakers, law enforcement officials, and judges. It is agreed that the law must be prospective, well-known, general, treat everyone equal, and provide certainty. Only, in reality not everyone is treated equally.

Laws being prospective means that you can only be convicted for violation of laws in force at the time the act was committed. Legal certainty means that the law must provide you with the ability to behave properly. The law must be precise enough to allow you to foresee the possible consequences of an action. Businesses prefer laws to stable and clear. Corporations invest for longer periods of time. If laws change they may face losses. If laws are not clear, investments won’t be made, and a country may end up poorer.

With the rise of neo-liberalism came the era of shareholder capitalism. Making profits became a goal in itself. Greed was considered good. Wall Street traders and CEOs were seen as heroes even when they were just psychopaths outsourcing jobs for profit. There was little consideration for the planet, people and communities. Consumers preferred the best service at the lowest price so businesses were pressed into cutting costs and moving jobs to low-wage countries. Ethics in business were a marginal issue at best.

A bigger role for ethics

More and more people believe that ethics should play a bigger role in business. Activists pressure corporations. That may not be enough. Corporations must be competitive and can’t make real changes if that increases their costs. Levelling the playing field with regulations is an option but that may not be sufficient. The law needs a morality clause, making unethical behaviour unlawful, even though the action itself is not explicitly stated as forbidden in the law. That increases the cost of unethical behaviour.

A randomly selected jury of laypeople could make verdicts in these issues. Perhaps it is better that the legal profession stays out of these matters because it is not a legal matter in the first place. There are a few issues that come with a morality clause. Ethics in business can be a political issue. People may differ on what kind of behaviour is ethical and people may differ on what kind of unethical behaviour should be punished.

Introducing a morality clause to enforce ethical behaviour in business affects legal certainty. It will be harder for businesses to predict whether or not a specific action is legal. Business owners may incorrectly guess moral sentiment and believe they did nothing wrong. The uncertainty that comes from that might reduce the available investment capital for questionable activities. But that may not be so bad. And if immoral profits and bonuses from the past are to be confiscated, it affects the prospectiveness of the law.

International treaties like the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) have been set up to accommodate the unethical practises of corporations and to protect those corporations from making those unethical practises unlawful. Because that is often what reducing the regulatory barriers to trade like food safety laws, environmental legislations and banking regulations often amounts to in practice.

In most cases it can be known on beforehand what actions are unethical. For instance, investors in corporations that extract fossil fuels should know that burning fossil fuels causes climate change. They are gambling with the future humanity. So if some countries decide to outlaw the use of fossil fuels then these investors should not be compensated.

Perhaps you have serious doubts about this proposal as it upsets the very foundations of the current system of law. And I can imagine that you think: “Where does this end?” But there is something very wrong with the current system of law. Business interests often take precedence. So do you want the law to protect the psychopaths who maximise their profits at the expense of people and the planet? And do you really think that the law can be made without failures so that corporations and savvy people can’t exploit them?

Featured image: Of course the laws are always functional. Loesje. Loesje.org.

1. The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success. Kevin Dutton (2012).
2. The death of Sidney, Nebraska: How a hedge fund destroyed ‘a good American town’. Charles Couger, Alex Pfeiffer (3 December 2019). Fox News. [link]
3. Vulture capitalists prey on patients. The Sacramento Bee (22 September 2015). [link]
4. How Mortgage Fraud Made the Financial Crisis Worse. Binyamin Appelbaum (12 February 2015). New York Times. [link]
5. Social Support Act (Wmo 2015). Government of the Netherlands. [link]
6. Gemeenten starten onderzoek naar Albero Zorggroep. Eelke van Ark (31 October 2019). Follow The Money. [link]
7. How a routine doctor visit for a sore throat resulted in a $28,000 medical bill. CBS News (31 December 2019) [link]

Black sheep Frank. Tele2 marketing campaign

Animal rights

Our pets get love and attention but most animals in industrial farming live in poor conditions, at least if living in their natural habitat is their prerogative. Thinking about animal rights is sometimes seen as a luxury for leftists who have nothing else to worry about. Industrial farming can’t be ended so easily as humans don’t like to change their diet. But farm animals can feel pain and have social needs like us. Animal rights activists have a serious case here.

People like to eat meat and they want it to be cheap. The plight of animals will not make them change their minds so easily. The same applies to the contribution of meat consumption to climate change. Still, the end of the mass suffering of farm animals could be near. Artificial meat and meat replacements may soon be more widely available, be cheaper and taste as good, even though many people won’t believe that now.

Whether or not animals have a good life in their natural habitat is a matter of debate. Faced with predators, food shortages, and humans, life in nature can be hard. And in most areas nature isn’t what it used to be as humans have completely altered the ecology. With humans came the animals that profit from them like mice, rats, seagulls, magpies, foxes and cockroaches. Other species can suffer as a consequence.

In populated areas there is little left of nature so the remaining wildlife may need management. For example, magpies eat chicks of songbirds. As magpies profit from humans by eating their leftovers in the winter, more of them survive and more chicks will be eaten. So is it better to shoot magpies so that songbirds may survive? And if there isn’t enough food for all deer, is it better to shoot the weak? Animal rights activists have trouble accepting this.

Featured image: Black sheep Frank from a Tele2 marketing campaign