- We survive the doomsday! Among the many doomsday preparation stories my favourite got to be that man in China who sells everything and build an ark. Wonder what happens to him now.
- There’s a town in US Pennsylvania named Intercourse. It is recommended to visit here first before going to Fucking, Austria.
- According to a major study, the global super-rich elite had at least hidden $21 trillion in secret tax havens by the end of 2010.
- When Alexander Graham Bell perfected and patented the prototype of telephone, he originally preferred the greeting of “ahoy” instead of “hello” when answering a phone call. But Bell’s rival Thomas Alva Edison championed “hello” (previously used to summon boatmen) and the greeting caught on until now.
- The Congo River and the Amazon River were once connected, with Congo River as the upper reaches. The Congo-Amazon snapped into two when South American continent and African continent split 120 million years ago.
- 19 March is father’s day in Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Italy, Honduras and Bolivia. Appropriately, 19 March 2012 was the day our son was born. The happiest day of my life!
- The song “Happy Birthday” was written by Mildred J. Hill and Patty Smith Hill in 1893. It was patented in 1935 thanks to a 3rd sister Jessica Hill. Through a long series of acquisitions, the patent for the song “Happy Birthday” is now owned by a subsidiary of AOL Time Warner. So royalty must actually be paid to AOL whenever actors sing happy birthday in a movie.
- Beer was first brewed c. 6000 BC in Sumeria, Mesopotamia. It is said that the Sumerians discovered the fermentation process by accident where a bread or grain became wet and fermented with wild yeast.
- The Sumerians thought beer as their ‘divine drink’ or a gift from the gods, and they even have a hymn to Ninkasi, the goddess of brewing, which the hymn is also a recipe for making beer.
- The beer brand name in the Simpsons, Duff beer, is named after former Guns N’ Roses bassist Duff McKagan, in honour of his prodigious alcohol consumption.
- The name of the days of the week in English language reflect the 7 planets of ancient Ptolemaic astronomy, which named after old pagan German-Nordic gods. Monday: the Moon’s day. Tuesday: the day of Týr, the one-handed god of battle glory. Wednesday: the day of Wodan (Odin), god of wisdom and shepherd to the newly dead. Thursday: the day of Thor, the original hammer-wielding Norse god of thunder. Friday: the day of Frigg (or Freyja), the goddess of love. Saturday: Saturn’s day. Sunday: the Sun’s day.
- In Danish, Saturday is Lördag, meaning ‘bath day’. It was the day when Vikings took their weekly bath.
- Legend has it that there were once a female pope, pope Joan, who reign the Vatican sometimes in the Medieval era. But due to her gender, her story was erased by the Vatican.
- Yemen were also once ruled by a woman, queen Arwa Al-Sulayhi. The much loved queen ruled Yemen peacefully for 71 years between 1067-1138.
- Meanwhile, the Roman Empire once had a transvestite emperor, Elagabalus, who ruled Rome from 218-222 AD. Elagabalus offered a huge fortune to any surgeon who could perform a sex change operation on him. But when there’s no one who stepped forward, he tried to become an eunuch, before settling for circumcision (abhorred in Rome).
- Leo Fender, the inventor of Fender Guitars, never knew how to play the guitar.
- Adam Smith’s writings on free-market economy in 1776 repeat word-by-word the ideas of ancient Persian scholars such as Al-Tusi and Al-Ghazali.
- There were once a white slave trade. It began in 1625 when king James II of England sold 30,000 Irish prisoners as slaves to English settlers in the New World (the Caribbeans). The Irish men, women and children were forcibly transported to the Caribbean where they were openly bought and sold, with Irishmen only fetched $8 compared with $30-80 for the rarer Africans. African slaves did not arrive in large volume to the Caribbeans until late 17th century.
- The story in the TV series How I Met Your Mother is loosely based on the creators’ own lives. The character Ted Mosby is based on Carter Bays, while Marshall Eriksen and Lily Aldrin are based on Craig Thomas and his wife Rebecca.
- The Rastafari movement is a new religion movement born in Jamaica in the 1930s. Its followers worship Haile Selassie I, the emperor of Ethiopia (ruled in 1930-1974), as the second coming of Jesus Christ or another incarnation of a Christian God named Jah (notice on most Reggae songs the lyrics contain praises to Jah).
- The Rastafarian colour of red, gold and green are derived from the Ethiopian flag. Red: blood of martyrs, green: the vegetation and beauty of Ethiopia and gold: the wealth of Africa.
- The Rastafari encompasses themes such as the spiritual use of cannabis. Biblical verses that Rastafaris quote to justify the consumption of cannabis: Genesis 1:11, 1:29, 3:18, Psalms 104:14, Proverbs 15:17 and Revelation 22:2.
- The name of the music gender “Reggae” comes from the song “Do the Reggay” by the legendary band Toots & The Maytals.
- Cuba’s first president, Tomas Estrada Palma, was an American citizen. He granted the lease of Guantanamo Bay to the US in 1903, in exchange for US recognition of Cuba’s ultimate sovereignty over the area. That is why the notoriously illegal US prison is located in Cuba. The rent, set in 1934, cost $4,085 and paid annually by cheque sent to Havana. But since the revolution the cheques never been banked.
- “Anus” is a Latin word for old lady. In an unrelated matter, there’s a town in France named Anus. I think Anus should be sister cities with Shit’, Ethiopia.
- Lake Retba in Senegal has water pinker than milkshake. The French refer to it as Lac Rose, and the lake get its pink colour from cyanobacteria a harmless halophilic bacteria found in the water. Like the Dead Sea, Lake Retba has a high salt content thus allowing people to float effortlessly in the water.
- Hitler was a momma’s boy, a choir boy and grew up to become a painter who has jewish friends. Made me believe that people aren’t born evil, but shaped to be evil.
- How Hitler’s inner demon was shaped: The death of his brother and later on mother changed the outgoing Hitler. Hitler was then rejected from art school because he can’t draw humans. He became a homeless in Vienna, and after reading an anti-semitic phamplet that gave him the easy “explanation” why he fail in life, he became an anti-Semitic. World War I finally gave homeless Hitler a purpose for life, where he then volunteered to become a soldier. Treaty of Versailles and the Great Depression destroyed the German economy and, just like the current situation in the EU, cleared the path for a “populist” extremist like Hitler to rise.
- Hitler had a son with a French teenager, Charlotte Lobjoie, while serving as a soldier during World War I.
- The symbol in the middle of the flag of India is the wheel of Ashoka Chakra, a depiction of the Buddhist’s Wheel of Dharma (Dharmachakra). The wheel has 24 spokes, which represent 12 Laws of Dependent Origination and the 12 Laws of Dependent Termination taught by the Buddha. I think the Indian flag is more philosophically sophisticated than South Korean flag (usually considered to be the most sophisticated flag design with its symbols of Ying and Yang and the 4 seasons).
- Pol pot, the leader of Cambodia’s brutal regime Khmer Rouge, once served in a Buddhist monastery.
- The scientific breakthrough “the big bang theory of the origin of the universe” that argues the idea that the universe was created by a Big Bang, not God, was first created by Georges Lemaitre. Ironically, he was a priest.
- The men of Aka Pygmies in the northern part of the Republic of Congo are considered to be the most diligent fathers in the world. Men undertake 47% of childcare work, they typically cuddle their children 5 times more than any other societies and when an infant is hungry they will give the infant their nipple to suckle until the mother is present to breast feed. Wow, I have so much to learn about fatherhood from the Aka Pygmies.
- Coffee spread along with the spread of Islam, with Catholics denounced it as the drink of infidels before Pope Clement “convert” into a coffee drinker. Amazing story.
- The first brand of instant coffee, Red-E-Coffee, was created in Guatemala in 1906 by an Englishman George Washington. The brand dominated world sales for over 30 years, until World War II brokeout and a newcomer Nescafé won a contract to supply the US troops with million cases, leaving Red-E-Coffee in the dust.
- The new CEO of Yahoo, Marissa Mayer, got to be the hottest CEO in the world.
- The name Singapore is derived from the local word Singapura (singa: lion. Pura: city. Hence, Lion City). Singapura was founded in 1324 by Sang Nila Utama, a Sriwijayan prince from Palembang (modern-day Indonesia).
- So legend has it that one day Sang Nila Utama went on a hunting trip in Riau Islands (present-day Indonesia) and was chasing a deer up to a hill, when the deer then vanished. From that hill top he looked across the sea and saw another island with a white sandy beach, the island of Termasek. Sang Nila Utama then went across the treacherous sea where he then continued the hunting quest, and then saw a strange but fine-looking animal with an orange body, black head and a white neck breast: A mythical creature lion the guardian of Termasek. Sang Nila Utama believed that seeing the lion was a good omen of good fortune coming his way, and thus decided to build a new city in Termasek, and renamed the city the Lion City, or Singapura.
- The first king of all Hawaii, united the island chiefdoms into a peaceful kingdom in 1758-1819: Kamehameha. I know what you’re thinking, Dragon Ball!
- The Easter custom of egg decorating is derived from a traditional custom in the Czech Republic. Meanwhile, decorating a Christmas tree during winter solice was a Latvian and Estonian Pagan tradition that the German merchants in Riga – then a city in the German Livonia (present day Latvia and Estonia) – started to use in the early 16th century to celebrate the light of Christ. Through them, this tradition spread from Northern Europe to Germany where Martin Luther made it famous and then the rest of the world followed.
- Heroin was first launched in 1895 as a cough medicine for children. The name was created and trademarked by Bayer Pharmaceuticals, and comes from Heroisch (heroic) for its supposed effectiveness.
- Texas was once part of Mexico. In 1821 when Mexico had their war of independence from Spain Texas was included in their territory, under the state of Chahuila y Tejas (Coahuila and Texas).
- However, due to constant raids by the native Comanche tribe, the Mexican government liberalised its immigration policies to permit immigrants mostly from the United States to settle in this low population area. To cut a long story short, the settlers never left Texas, the population outgrew the Mexicans and in 1836 they won their independence by becoming a Republic for 9 years, until in 1845 they joined the US as the 28th state. Oops.
- In the US, gay marriage is legal in 6 states. But having sex with a horse is legal in 23 states. Now that’s messed up!
- Wednesday, 28 May 585 BC was the day history began. On this day Lydian and Mede armies marched up to the river Halys in Asia Minor (present day Turkey) and began to battle. But then out of a sudden the sun went out in a solar eclipse, and the two terrified kings agreed to a peace treaty on the spot. Based on the eclipse timing that can be calculated retrospectively, the date is the earliest in history that can be given with absolute precision. And ancient historians can then calculate the passage of time to recorded events that happened later, making the Battle of the Eclipse truly the day history began.
- According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) organised crime is worth $870 billion a year. That’s worth more than 6 times the global aid budget.
- Guinea-Bissau is a key transfer point for cocaine smuggling into Europe. Since 2005 the country’s drug problem has grown from almost nothing to virtually overwhelming where drug traffickers practically control the country. To put this into a perspective, a 600 kg of cocaine is enough to run Guinea-Bissau’s schools for 20 months. While a single 2 1/2 ton consignment of cocaine has a value equal to the country’s entire national budget.
- In Tajikistan, the multi-billion-dollar drug trafficking industry is equivalent to 30-50% of the country’s GDP.
- Just how much oil does the world actually has?
- In the Shakespearean story Romeo and Juliet, Romeo is 17 years old while Juliet is 13 years old. Makes perfect sense now, just a bunch of love-drunk teenagers (Indonesian translation: ABG galau).
- Indonesia has 742 official languages. Only Papua New Guinea has more languages (820) in one country than Indonesia.
- !Xóõ is considered as the world’s most challenging language. Spoken by around 4000 people in Botswana, 70% of the words start with 1 of 83 different variety of clicks (in the region of 5 core types). The language also have more distinct sounds than any other languages with 112 sounds compared to 45 sounds in English (45 is already high). For those who are wondering, no it is not the language spoken by the Kalahari Bushman in the movie The Gods Must Be Crazy. Xi speaks a similar language of !Kung.
- Africa may have up to 200 hidden billionaires.
- UN is not a neutral organization. It was founded by the US State Department, headquartered in New York City and as at 2011 the US funded 22% of its budget. And don’t forget the veto power US often abuse, especially when it comes to Israel. Read: America, Hitler and the UN: How the Allies Won World War II and Forged a Peace by Dan Plesch.
- In the twelve animal sign of the zodiac, it is believed that cat should’ve been in the zodiac instead of pig.
- One day The Jade Emperor (the ruler of the universe) wanted to make the earth more harmonious, so he asked all the animals to visit him in heaven so that he could divide the years between them, with each animal ruling a certain lunar year. The cat needed her beauty sleep, but worried that she’d miss the trip the cat asked the rat to wake her in time. But the rat, thought that the Emperor would prefer the cat’s beauty to the rat’s ugliness, didn’t wake the cat and let the pig take her place. That’s why cats and rats hate each other ever since.
- There’s a city named Moron in Mongolia. As at 2007 it is estimated that there are 36,082 Morons, I mean people who live in Moron.
- The name Dalai Lama was mistakenly given to a Tibet spiritual leader by a Mongolian ruler. In the 16th century Mongolian ruler Altan Khan wished to convert to Buddhism, and he invited Tibet’s supreme monk Sonam Gyatso to visit him. On Gyatso’s arrival in 1578, Altan mistook his name for a title and greeted him with the Mongolian translation Dalai Lama (meaning ‘ocean of wisdom’). The phrase has stuck ever since.
- Fanta Orange was created by the Cocacola Company in Germany during World War II, because the company couldn’t sell Coke (a US brand name) in enemy Germany.
- Nothing dominates the temperature of the global markets more this year than EU crisis. And it really astonishes me how EU-IMF keep on imposing austerity, especially to Greece, after IMF themselves admitted that austerity produce disastrous impacts. In order to pay off debts Greece need growth, but yet EU-IMF keep on dismantling their engine of growth through austerity. Even Charles Dallara, the Institute of International Finance boss who once lobbied for Greece’s creditors, commented that Greek austerity is going too far, and EU-IMF should focus on growth.
- Out of frustration, this year a small Greek town of Volos dropped the Euro and start using the barter system.
- 3 hours ahead of its “motherland” France, The island of Réunion in the Indian Ocean was the first place in the world where Euro currency became legal tender on 1 January 2002. The very first transaction: a purchase of a bag of lychees from a market stall in its capital city St. Denis.
- There’s a newspaper in France, named La Bougie du Sapeur, that only published once every 4 years on 29 February.
- French magazine Charlie Hebdo’s edition that insulted the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) instantly sold out in September, making it the best sales since 2007 when they, again, insulted the prophet Muhammad (PBUH). So insulting a religion just for profit?
- Another nut case seeking for fame in September: Innocence of Muslims, a shitty movie that insulted the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and sparked a riot across the Muslim world was funded by Media for Christ (a christian fundamentalist group), shot by a porn director and produced by a guy who served time in prison for meth production and bank fraud.
- I still strongly believe that religion is not violent or peaceful, but people are. These people are acting on behalf of religion, doesn’t mean that Christianity is short-minded and provocative, and doesn’t mean that Islam is short-tempered and violent.
- Dolphin’s nipples are located in its anus. To breastfeed, the calf sticks its bill into the hole and then the mother squirts milk into the mouth. Kinky.
- There’s a historical evidence that implies that World War I was fabricated by the British Empire, due to the rise of German Empire. While the British Empire use coal in their industrial revolution, the German use oil as their engine for growth and they imported their oil from Iraq. To ensure a constant supply of the commodity, they were planning to build a railway from Baghdad to Berlin, however the British tried to prevent it to be built and the shooting of Franz Ferdinand occurred in that railway path.
- The hole in doughnut was invented by sea captain Hanson Crockett in the mid 1800s, after he had difficulty of eating doughnut while steering his ship.
- We start giving our son solid food, and he loves carrot. So I was wondering about the history of this vegetable and was surprised with its long history. It originated from present day Afghanistan around 5000 years ago, began to be cultivated since the 900s and were imported to Southern Europe in the 14 century. The original colours of carrot was purple, white and yellow, that is until in the 17th century Dutch growers cultivated a new orange variety as a tribute to their king William of Orange.
- The islands of New Zealand is the visible surface of a drowned continent of Zealandia, where 93% of the area remains under the pacific ocean since 23 million years ago. Zealandia is 3,500,000 km2 in size, larger than India or Greenland.
- Biblical scholars agree that portions of the Old Testament are directly descended from the Egyptian Book of the Dead. Some archaeologists even argue that Moses must have read and carried a copy of it with him when he fled Egypt.
- Many anthropologist and religious scholars agree that Moses led the Israelites in the Exodus towards the Promised Land in approximately 1300-1400 BC or 3400 years ago. The Israel-Palestine conflict, however, started to occur since only 64 years ago (dubbed the Nakba). So religion absolutely has nothing to do with the current Israel-Palestine conflict.
- Approximately 90% of jewish people in the world today are actually Khazars, or Ashkenazi Jews. Their real homeland is in Georgia, not the Palestinian land.
- In the 15th century Spain’s and Portugal’s Catholic monarchs expelled the jews, with a lot of them immigrated and actually settled in Muslim Ottoman Empire. No love lost between Muslims and Jews in the 15th century.
- 95% of sacred sites in Mecca and Medina have been destroyed in the past 20 years by Saudi’s Wahhabi regime. This year the Saudi government is outrageously planning to raze the Prophet’s tomb in Medina.
- Best book I read this year: Debt: the first 5000 years by David Graeber.
- War Games: the story of aid and war in modern times by Linda Polman and Confessions of a microfinance heretic by Hugh Sinclair came in a close second and third.
- The flag of Haiti and Liechtenstein used to be similar, with the top half blue and bottom half red. They found out about it accidentally when they met at the 1936 Olympics. A year later Liechtenstein add a yellow crown on the upper left side of their flag.
- Liechtenstein is the only country in the world named after the people who bought it (the Liechtenstein family). After their 1712 purchase, the Liechtenstein family didn’t visit the area for 106 years, preferring their far grander estates in Moravia, Silesia and Bohemia (now long-vanished).
- Story of the year: In a shooting tournament, Kuwait confuses Kazakhstan’s national anthem with Borat’s parody song.
- There were once lived in a Balkan village of Meduegna, a Serbian man called Arnold Paole. One day in 1725 he fell from a hay wagon, broke his neck and died. Legend has it that few days after he died people started dying from the loss of blood, and several eye-witnesses report that they had seen Paole walking around with glassy eyes and long and sharp teeth. Baffled by this mystery, villagers dig up Paole’s grave and saw his corpse undecomposed with fresh blood flowed from his eyes, nose, mouth and ears; while his nails and skin had fallen off and grown new ones. The villagers then decided to drove a stake through his chest, to which he reacted by groaning and bleeding, and they then burned the body. The deaths in the village stopped, the myth spread, and Arnold Paole has since remembered as one of the first real-life vampires.
- It is estimated that nearly 100,000 people are involved in the illegal cross-border smuggling activity between Peru and Bolivia, with goods transferred including everything from computers, to clothes, food or fuel. It is a black-market generating revenues of around $1.5 billion a year.
- Wanker of the year: Benjamin Netanyahu, for the 2nd successive year! He’s like the Lionel Messi of giant assholes.
- High heels were first worn by prostitutes in 16th century Venice, to signal their profession (and to keep their toes clean).
- Italics was invented by a Venetian printer, Aldus Manutius, in 1501. Emphasis had nothing to do with it though, as he created the font to print books that would fit inside a gentleman’s pocket.
- If a guy comes to a bank asking to borrow $100 million to bet on a horse race, the bank would probably laugh. But what if he offers a collateral for the loan, will the bank lend him? That is basically what happened in most indebted African countries, where their dictators borrow a lot of money with national assets as the collateral, only for the money to be transferred directly to their Swiss Bank account. When they’re toppled, the Swiss Bank account remains untouched while the country (more specifically, the people) have to bear the burden of the debt repayment + interests, or like in any other Economic Hit Man’s work have to surrender their control over the country’s economic sovereignty or loose their national assets. This also currently happening in Greece.
- Hottie of the year: I gotta go with Tanja Nijmeijer, the 34 year old Dutch woman who joined the FARC rebel after seeing inequality in Colombia. There’s just something dangerously sexy about her.
- There’s an island chain named Chagos islands in the middle of the Indian Ocean, situated 500 KM south of the Maldives. Chagos were officially part of the British Indian Ocean Territory and were home of the native Chagossians for more than a century and a half, until in early 1970s when they were brutally forced to leave their home island by the British government, to make way for the US to build a military base on Diego Garcia, the largest island.
- It was from Diego Garcia that the US conducted their reconnaissance in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, while Diego Garcia was also used by the US as their base in the first Gulf War, the Afghanistan 2001 and Iraq 2003 wars. The island may store a nuclear weapons and may be a “black site” to conduct their illegal activities like detaining and torturing prisoners.
- More on Chagos islands: a story of injustice, Aljazeera English: the heart of an American empire?, John Pilger’s documentary: stealing a nation, a book: Island of Shame: The Secret History of the U.S. Military Base on Diego Garcia by David Vine, UK citizens can help here.
- Person of the year: PSY. The world just can’t get enough of him can we?
- Thanks to PSY’s hit sensation, Gangnam Style, the market capitalisation of his father’s software firm, D I Corp, has surged to 113.5 billion won on the main Seoul stock exchange. The stock attracted investors simply because the company is owned by PSY’s father and uncle.
- More Americans die from gun homicides and suicides in 6 months than from 25 years of terrorism, Afghanistan war and Iraq war combined. For gun nuts out there, this was the circumstance in America when the ‘right to bear arms’ was ratified in 1791.
- According to Jewish folklore, Eve was Adam’s second wife. His first wife was Lilith, who was created by God out of dust, just like Adam. Lilith considered herself equal with Adam and she refused to submit to his will and left. Only then did God created Eve from Adam’s rib.
- The founder of Save the Children charity organisation, Eglantyne Jebb, actually dislike children. She didn’t personally have, want or even care for children (she referred to them as ‘wretches’). But it didn’t stop her to write a ‘Children’s Charter’, which later became the basis of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child – since adopted by every member of the UN except Somalia and the US.
- Isaac Newton was born on Christmas day sickly and premature, but lived until the age of 84, where he died a virgin.
- Quote of the year: “Love is like a fart. If you have to force it, it’s probably shit.”
- A wise man once said that you won’t know the capacity of love that you have, until you have a child. Now that I’m a father, I see the world a little bit differently and can understand – and can even relate with – some of the things I couldn’t before, like how a desperate person can steal just to feed their starving children. If I ever in that situation, I’d do it without blinking.
- Loved every single minute I spent this year watching our son grows into a cheeky baby that he is now, with all the shenanigans that comes with it!
“Six days of fighting has already shaken Israel’s main population centres in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.” All that destruction in Gaza and that is your focus?
This complements Jerusalem Post’s “news” that the sound of sirens causing some pets in Israel to suffer from anxiety. Apparently more than 100 deaths (23 children) and 750 injured Palestinians do not mean a thing. But disrupting Israeli’s 1st class way of living and making their pets stressful now that’s a catastrophe. This is an in-your-face apartheid.
Like this article, some tries to portray the Gaza aggression as the clashing of two equal powers between Israel and Hamas. But Gaza is (still) officially within the state of Israel so the situation is closer to a colonial power versus it’s indigenous people, and there’s nothing equal about their powers. Gaza has been shut down from the outside world by Israel since 2006 and been deliberately kept close to malnourishment, while just few miles away Israelis live in a 1st class world. Israel has top class military equipment including nuclear weapons, while Hamas has to smuggle their weapons and small rockets into the open-air-prison of Gaza. Israel has iron dome to shield itself from these rockets while Gaza, as we have seen, can be bombed easily.
And then we have Egypt, a country emerge in the midst of this chaos as a peace broker. Although Muhammad Morsi is a [president] from the Muslim Brotherhood (the godfather for Hamas), with a huge US string behind his country (Egypt is still the 2nd largest recipient of US aid after Israel) Muhammad Morsi can’t hardly be the fair peace-broker that he should, can he? And don’t forget Israel’s big brother, the US, who has vetoed every single UN resolution charged against Israel and has shown its support once again for Israel to “defend itself.”
Hence, both on the ground and on the diplomatic battle ground Israel completely dominating the playing field, and no way near equal with Hamas, not even with the more internationally-recognised Palestinian Authority. And it sure apparent in the way the Israeli behave. Killing civilians, bombing residential houses, even targeting the media and killing its journalists without being charged with a single international sanction for its violations. While peace process is ongoing, they keep on bombing Gaza while saying that they won’t conduct a ground offensive if Hamas don’t escalate their rocket firing. In other words they expect Hamas to take the hit and keep quiet about it.
Some try to quote religion to justify the war crimes Israel are doing and have done so many times in the past, saying it is a Promised Land. Perhaps one word can be a Rosetta Stone for these folks: Nakba. Moses led the Israelites to fled Egypt around 1300-1200 BC, or 3300 years ago. Nakba, on the other hand, happened only 64 years ago, when Israel uniterally claimed independence on 14 May 1948 (one day before the British leave the Palestinian land) and violating the 1947 UN partition Plan. So this has nothing to do with religion.
The British had been supporting the Zionist movement since the Balfour Declaration 1917, in order to gain counter-support from the Jewish community for their increasingly unpopular military actions during World War I. And before Britain left on 15 May 1948 the British brokered a “cease fire” between disputing Arabs and Jews, with only the Arabs who put down their weapons. As a result after UN and the international community shockingly recognised israel’s claim of independence, Nakba, a brutal ethnic cleansing of unarmed Palestinians, followed shortly. So a deep-rooted pain, anger and urge for revenge naturally embedded in most Palestinians. But can you blame them?
So the Economist ask where will it end? Can you seriously see the end of this? Not in Benyamin Netanyahu’s time, that’s for sure. If Israel keep on pushing their luck by violating the likes of Oslo Accord and burning every bridge towards peace, it could end in a dark scenario, considering the huge political shift occurring in the Arab world right now. But perhaps this can eventually end well after all, when Israel can find their own version of F. W. de Klerk and finally reach a fair two-state, or even three-state, solution.
When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men, they create for themselves, in the course of time, a legal system that authorizes it, and a moral code that glorifies it – Political economist Frederic Bastiat, The Law (1850)
Thailand, 2 July 1997. After spending billions of dollars of its foreign reserves to defend the Thai baht, the central bank of Thailand finally gave-in to the market pressure and had no other option than to float their currency, breaking the Prime Minister’s vow few days earlier on not to devalue the baht.
The currency floating news dropped the value of the baht even more by -20% against US dollar, and triggered a panic-selling pressure on other South East Asian currencies, as investors and lenders withdrew capital from the battered region. Meanwhile many local businesses who borrow in US dollar but get paid in local currency were rushing to hedge their worsening currency position by selling their local currency for US dollar, which added fuel to the fire and led to systemic sell-off pressure for these currencies.
Malaysia was the first to intervene their currency sell off on 8 July 1997, while three days later Indonesia widened its trading band for rupiah at the same day the Philippine peso devalued. But Indonesia’s attempt to keep its currency peg to US dollar failed, and on 14 August 1997 Indonesia too was forced to abandon rupiah’s trading band and devalue the currency. In the next 2 months, along with the panic selling of its stock market, Indonesia’s rupiah fell more than -30%.
Meanwhile, as Singaporean dollar and South Korean won had started their gradual decline, on October 1997 Hong Kong raised its bank lending rates to 300% to safeguard the Hong Kong dollar from speculators regardless of the devastating effects the high interest rates would cause. Sure enough, this move triggered a sell off of its stock market with -10.4% fall on 23 October 1997. Rattled by the spreading of Asia’s crisis, on 27 October 1997 the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 554 points, which prompted the exchange officials to suspend the trading in US stock markets.
Devastatingly, in just 1 year duration of the crisis (June 1997 – July 1998) Thai baht lost its value by -40.2%, Indonesian rupiah by -83.2%, Philippine peso by -37.4%, Malaysian ringgit by -39% and South Korean won lost its value by -34.1%. During the same period of June 1997 – July 1998 these countries’ GNP also dropped significantly, with Thailand sank by -40%, Indonesia by -83.4%, Philippines by -37.3%, Malaysia by -38.9% and South Korea by -34.2%.
Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad was quick to blame currency speculators as the cause of the crash. He even singled out George Soros as the scapegoat, for an understandable reason. In July 1997 Soros Fund Management returned 11.4% mainly from shorting the Thai baht, while another prominent hedge fund manager Julian Robertson made in total of $7 billion in profit from trading across currency, commodity and equity markets during the Asian Crisis. However, to say that they and other speculators caused the crisis would be over simplifying the situation, as nobody – not even Soros and Robertson – have large enough capital to single-handedly crash the Asian markets.
Hence the enigma remains, if speculators were not the main cause of the Asian market crash, then what actually happened?
The Enigma of Market Crash
It was first occurred in the 17th century Netherlands. After their independence from the Spanish Habsburg Empire, and after the exodus of skilled traders from Spanish-occupied Antwerp to Amsterdam, the Netherlands established the first modern financial market in the world in 1602. The new exchange marked the hallmark of the Dutch Golden Age, which made Amsterdam not only the financial capital of Europe but also the financial capital of the world.
By the 1630s the Dutch’s commercial activities were at its best: profitable quest around the globe by its merchants, booming textile trade, profitable settlement in Batavia by the Dutch East Indian Company (VOC), and climbing house prices as well as healthy economic growth as its citizens had become a consumer nation.
Along with this growing economy, Dutch citizens with their disposable income started to look for luxury goods and declaration of status, and found their fond of beautiful display in tulip flowers. Imported from the Ottoman Empire in the middle of 16th century, tulips was first introduced to Europe by Ogier Ghislaine de Busbecq, the Imperial Ambassador to Ottoman’s Suleiman the Magnificent. At first tulips was only available among the nobles, the wealthy and specialist botanists. But in 1573 Busbecq presented some tulip bulbs to the famous Dutch botanist Carolus Clusius who began to harvest and sell them at a very expensive price.
As the flowers gradually became a symbol of wealth among all Dutch citizens, demand for tulip flowers began to boom and in time started to create a price increase. It was around this time in 1634 that outsiders who heard about the already rising prices for tulips in Paris and Northern France, started to come to the Dutch tulip markets and began speculating on tulip prices there. This effectively triggered a bubble, where tulip prices began to increase rapidly.
For instance, in 1623 the price of a particularly rare tulip variety Semper Augustus was sold at an already high price of 1,000 florins (more than six times the average annual wage). But at the height of what later to be known as Tulipo Mania, the price of Semper Augustus had risen to 10,000 florins (equal to the price of a canal-side house in central Amsterdam).
As tulip prices rapidly increase, more herd of people began to join the Tulipo Mania in a speculative quest to gain excessive money, which turned the tulip business from selling flowers to selling tulip futures, since none of these speculators really wanted the flower. Overtime, the price of tulip had risen to a level so ridiculously high that nobody wanted to buy anymore, and on the other hand those who had the futures were starting to sell drastically at lower prices, in a fear of a price collapse.
On 3 February 1637 that fear became a self-fulfilling prophecy, where tulip prices collapse drastically with both speculators and genuine buyers were all panic-selling the futures and the physical tulip flowers, making this day the first ever modern market crash in history.
In his 1841 book Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, Charles Mackay provided the first accounts of the history of Tulipo Mania, in which he commented: “men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one.”
This view is also shared by British economist John Maynard Keynes who in 1936 described the herding behaviour in speculative euphoria through the analogy of beauty contest, where in guessing the outcome of a pageant we will have a better chance to pick the winner by guessing what the judges think about the contestants, instead of defining our own opinion about beauty. Keynes then elaborate by saying “professional traders prefer to devote their energies not to estimating intrinsic values, but rather to analysing how the crowd of investors is likely to behave in the future.”
Moreover, Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter later added that the herding behaviour over this speculative euphoria are normally based on an underlying new trend, industry, or technology where people often overvalue the potential gains and leading to an over-excessive flow of capital towards this new trend.
Just as the arrival of Tulips from the Ottoman Empire brought a new trend into the Netherlands, the same new trend syndrome occurred in most market crashes such as Mississippi bubble in 1716 on the share price of Mississippi Company and in South Sea bubble 1720 on the share price of South Sea Company, where the South Sea Company’s share price skyrocketed from 131% of par in February to as high as 950% in June 1720, and then dropped back to 200% in December 1720.
Furthermore, John P. Calverley in his book Bubbles: And How to Survive Them explained that in each market bubble the increasing price of the new trend usually started for a good reason, which on the way up would encourage more high level of investments, boost prosperity and increase economic growth. Tulips became the symbol of wealth in 17th century Netherlands, while the mania in the US for railway stocks in the 1880s, radio and motorcar stocks in the 1920s were also new trends during their time and were all breakthrough inventions that changed the way we live.
Calverley’s Checklist: Typical characteristics of a bubble
• Rapidly rising prices
• High expectations for continuing rapid rises
• Overvaluation compared to historical averages
• Overvaluation compared to reasonable levels
• Several years into an economic upswing
• Some underlying reason or reasons for higher prices
• A new element, e.g. technology for stock or immigration for housing
• Subjective “paradigm shift”
• New investors drawn in
• New entrepreneurs in the area
• Considerable popular and media interest
• Major rise in lending
• Increase in indebtedness
• New lenders or lending policies
• Consumer price inflation often subdued (so central banks relaxed)
• Relaxed monetary policy
• Falling household saving rate
• A strong exchange rate
However, overtime as expectations grow stronger, overvaluation of the potential gains from these new trends starting to become irrational. Just as George Soros explained in his book The Alchemy of Finance: “when events have thinking participants, the subject matter is no longer confined to facts but also includes the participants’ perceptions. The chain causation does not lead directly from fact to fact but from fact to perception and from perception to fact.”
In other words, more often than not the facts of the new trend are usually overlooked when the euphoria has created an overvalued or over optimistic perception towards this new trend among the herd, despite the overwhelming evidence. Soros’ view echoes Keynes’ beauty pageant analogy, and this overvalued perception becomes the fuel that turns optimism in the new trend into speculative market bubble, where the still potential rise in price begins to attract speculators to jack up the price sharply into a highly overbought territory.
This is when the outsiders came to tulip markets in 1634, at the same point in time as other herd of speculators entering their respective euphoric bubbles. By the time the euphoric bubble has reached its height, my role model Jim Rogers (George Soros’ partner in the 1970s and 1980s) observed, the level of irrational exuberance among the herd will also reach a ridiculous level, where everyone will all be talking about, and buying, the shares of the new trend.
For instance, at the height of the 1920s bubble Bernard Baruch described the scene of his bubble days vividly: “Taxi drivers told you what to buy. The shoeshine boy could give you a summary of the day’s financial news as he worked with rag and polish. An old beggar who regularly patrolled the street in front of my office now gave me tips and, I suppose, spent the money I and others gave him in the market. My cook had a brokerage account and followed the ticker closely. Her paper profits were quickly blown away in the gale of 1929.” Another prominent financier of that era, Joe Kennedy (the founding chairman of the SEC and John F Kennedy’s father), famously sold his stocks positions just before the crash in autumn of 1929 after a shoeshine boy gave him stocks tips.
When the euphoric bubbles finally burst or crash, people who bought railroad stocks in the 1880s lost a substantial amount of money in the Panic of 1893, since the stock prices never came back to as high as they were during the euphoria. People who bought RCA stocks and stocks on the hundreds of motorcar companies in the 1920s also lost their money in the 1929 Crash. Likewise, after tulip prices slumped in the 17th century people lost a great deal of money almost in a blink of an eye, punishing everyone from rich to poor, men and women, young and old, without mercy. Even world renown genius Sir Isaac Newton famously lost a fortune in the South Sea bubble 1720, in which he then commented “I can calculate the motions of the heavenly bodies, but not the madness of the people.”
Edwin Lefevre summed up this enigma best in his book Reminiscence of a Stock Operator, where he said there is no other place in history that show repetitions so uniformly and so frequently as in the financial market. Lefevre’s book was a thinly disguised novel based on the story of Jesse Livermore, perhaps the most manic-depressive and extravagant character in Wall Street history. In his pre-SEC days Livermore cornered stocks, planted phony publicity, concealed positions, bought heavily on margin and gathered inside information to make his profits, in which according to the book 100 Minds That Made the Market “he made himself a millionaire four different times following bankruptcies, recouping his fortunes as spectacularly as he lost them.”
But among other things, Livermore is arguably most remembered as the guy who famously made a huge fortune from shorting the stock market during the Panic of 1907 and the Crash of 1929. However, unlike John Law who phenomenally fabricated the Mississippi Bubble 1716 and those who manipulated the South Sea Bubble 1720 using Law’s “methods”, Jesse Livermore – despite of his tricks – was by no mean the cause of the market crashes of his time, just as George Soros was not the cause of the Asian market crash 1997. Instead, Similar like Soros, Livermore was a master in spotting the symptoms of a peaking bubble, and had the knack for good timing and the guts to take huge positions to capitalise from the inevitable crashes.
In other words, the main problem with market crashes is not speculators or traders who are capitalising the market situation, but the main problem is the fundamental gap between the peak of the bubble and its much lower fair/real price, as well as the trigger that makes the crash inevitable.
This is what happened with the one day collapse of the British pound in 16 September 1992. With the plan of joining EU single currency Britain entered the Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM), a currency stabilisation mechanism, in 1990 with British pound pegged at 2.95 Deutsche marks, with 6% room for movement. During that time Germany was suffering from inflationary effects from the integration of East and West Germany after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, which over time prompted the Bundesbank to set high interest rates to curb inflation and defend the currency from losing value. This, in effect, forced countries in the ERM to also maintain high interest rates to keep up with their respective currency peg against Deutsche mark.
In Britain this translated to artificially high interest rate and currency, and it caused failing businesses, housing market crash and eventually led to a recession. In the market, this situation was seen by traders and speculators as weak economic indicators, with pound maintained in an artificially high price, and thus must fall over time to reach its right price level. And so on September 1992 the pound started to take a hit, with traders and speculators frantically selling pounds against marks, pushing down the currency to approach the lower end of the 6% trading band. This move forced the Bank of England to intervene and buy unlimited amount of pounds, to maintain the currency within the 6% trading limit in accordance with ERM rules.
On 16 September 1992, the sell-off continued, and UK chancellor Norman Lamont then raised interest rates from 10% to 12% to discourage traders and speculators from further selling the pound and encourage them to own the currency. However, this action would further worsen their economic problems, and thus sent alarming signal that the British government was beginning to act desperately. Traders and speculators kept on selling, and later in the day the interest rates was once again raised to 15% with no effect. Finally, by 7 o’clock in the evening, Britain announced that it would no longer defend the trading band and bitterly withdrew the pound from the ERM system.
Over the next few weeks, the free-floating British pound fell approximately 15% against Deutsche mark. And on 24 October 1992 The Daily Mail newspaper revealed that during the pound sell-off George Soros shorted $10 billion worth of currency and earned about $1 billion of profit in the process, which instantly made him the scapegoat for the crash, and gave Soros the nickname “The Man Who Broke the Bank of England.”
However, in reality Soros was not the cause of the crash. What Soros did was spotting the fundamental gap between the artificially high pound value and its true price, and, along with other short-sellers in the market, he took a huge short position to capitalise from the inevitable pound collapse. Had Soros shorted the pound before Britain raised its interest rates following Germany, he would have shorted the pound to no effect or to a loss, since there would be no fundamental reason for the pound value to go down.
This is exactly what happened with Julian Robertson. After making a huge fortune in the Asian crash 1997, Robertson correctly predicted the inevitable crash of the Dot Com Bubble 2000 but shorted the tech market just a few months too early, hence shorting against the still upward market trend. The short position wiped out all of his capitals and forced him to shut down his legendary Tiger Fund, where he then vanished from the market till this day. Meanwhile, as described in the book Inside the House of Money, during the same Dot Com Bubble George Soros also shorted the tech market a bit too early, but after realising his wrong timing Soros flipped his position from short to long in late 1999, and converted a 19% loss into a 35% gain for the year.
Therefore, although oftentimes framed as the scapegoats of the crash, people like Livermore, Soros and Robertson can only utilise their large capital and even larger leverage to exploit the fundamental gaps that have already existed in any given market bubble, and can only start to capitalise by shorting it when the bubble has peaked and about to burst. The real question then becomes this, who has the power to control these fundamental gaps in market bubbles and who has the trigger to burst it? The financial market, as it turns out, is only the tip of a very large iceberg.
The making of a new world order: the Wall Street coup
In the year 1791, 15 years after the Declaration of Independence, the first US Secretary of Treasury Alexander Hamilton established The First Bank of the United States. The new central bank received a 20 year charter, as part of Hamilton’s effort to put the young republic on a sound financial footing. The bank’s existence, however, was fiercely debated, most profoundly by then Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, who was deeply suspicious of big powerful banks and had once said “I sincerely believe, with you, that banking institutions are more dangerous than standing armies.”
After 20 years of shaky existence, populist sentiment at that time prevailed when during the presidency of James Madison the charter for the First Bank of the United States failed to be renewed by a single vote in congress, on the ground that the central bank was unconstitutional and benefited investors and merchants at the expense of the majority of the population. The charter then expired in 1811, and one year later a war broke between the US and the British Empire.
The war lasted for 2 years and 8 months, and it created an economic dislocation and chaos in the US financial system. Some conspiracy theory believes that the British was backed by the money from the Rothschild banking family, who was one of the masterminds behind the First Bank of the United States. Hence, the theory suggest, Rothschild’s backing for the British was a direct reaction for the abolishment of the central bank, in which the resulting economic chaos in the US was intended to pressure politicians to think of the need for a central bank.
Regardless whether the conspiracy theory was true or not, the economic destructions was enough to convince politicians for the need of a central bank. As a result, in 1816 a 20 year charter for The Second Bank of the United States was signed by President James Madison. However, the charter was again fiercely debated especially by President Andrew Jackson in the 1830s, who was concern with the Second Bank’s monopoly over government finances that gave tremendous power to the bank’s President Nicholas Biddle, who indeed abuse the bank’s power for political advantage, and his allies such as politician Henry Clay who used the bank’s power for a leverage in his Presidential campaign.
The debate then escalated into a Bank War in 1832, where Biddle and his allies attempted to renew the charter for the Second Bank, with the members of the Congress (a lot of which substantially trapped in Biddle’s debt) voted to renew the charter, but was then vetoed by President Jackson. Due to his strong stance in the Bank War, an assassination was attempted on President Jackson but failed, in which he then said to his running mate Martin Van Buren “the bank is trying to kill me, but I will kill it.” Andrew Jackson eventually won against Henry Clay in the 1832 presidential election, and Jackson held up his stance against the Second Bank. In 1836 the charter for the Second Bank of the United States then expired.
And so began the period with no central bank, in what often referred as the “years in wilderness for US banking”, a grossly misleading term. In reality, despite the decentralised financial system 19th century America actually experienced an unprecedented period of prosperity, strong economic growth and innovations that created the environment for great inventors such as Thomas Alva Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, the Wright Brothers and Henry Ford; where industries like railroads, automobile, steam powers, telecommunications and other technology-intensive industries flourished. And according to Simon Johnson and James Kwak in their book 13 Bankers, right in the centre of the innovative period, banks played the intermediary role between savers and productive investment opportunities, even during the Civil War 1861-1865 where President Abraham Lincoln’s Union Army prevailed.
By late 19th century, this economic innovations also changed US political landscape, where in the absence of entrenched aristocracy and in the lightly regulated corporate and banking environment the innovative corporations began to buy out politicians to gain political leverage, a practice that was considered normal. As a result, while the Senate became known as the ‘Millionaire’s Club’, the openness of the US political system made it possible for the business elite to use their political leverage to shift the economic playing field in their favour.
Moreover, the late 19th century also witnessed the birth of the Trust system, where these corporations consolidated with each other to effectively create a monopoly power in their respective industries. According to historian Thomas McCraw between the period of 1897-1904 as many as 4227 US corporations merged into 257 combinations, with around 318 Trusts were estimated to control two-fifth of US’ manufacturing assets by 1904. Investment banks played a central role in this rise of the Trust system, where they became the middleman that brought disparate industrial interests together and also provided the funds required to buy shares and rearrange shareholdings. Among the pact of investment bankers, JP Morgan and his army of bankers emerged as the leader, with his empire handled as high as 40% of total capital flowing into American industry, giving him an economic power unmatched since Nicholas Biddle.
But then came Theodore Roosevelt. Vice President Roosevelt stepped up to power after the assassination of President William McKinley in September 1901, and made “Trust busting” and improved supervision of large corporations as the major theme of his presidency. He pushed through major legislation to tighten regulations, and pioneered the use of the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 to break up large Trusts, with Northern Securities Company (a JP Morgan-engineered railroad Trust) as the first victim. Roosevelt administration’s success in prosecuting antitrust cases became the benchmark and inspiration for “trust busting” cases under Presidents William Howard Taft and Woodrow Wilson, including the famous court-ordered break up of Standard Oil in 1911.
Nevertheless, for the financial elite the “trust busting” policies did little to change the concentration of money and power that they dominate. In fact, their power would soon escalate beyond their wildest dream when an opportunity appeared during the Panic of 1907.
It was in the era where the US was on a depression, after a massive earthquake that hit San Francisco in April 1906 brought down the market and the economy. During this bleak period, F. Augustus Heinze and Charles Morse attempted to corner the stock of United Copper Company. With the financial backing from Knickerbocker Trust Company (New York City’s 3rd largest Trust) the two men tried to push up the stock price using various brokers’ name, and then “park” the stocks that they bought in each broker’s account (still not illegal in those pre-SEC days).
But then the scheme began to fall apart when speculators and their brokers themselves took a counter position against them and short sell the stocks, though the brokers did not admit it to the two men. Calling the brokers’ bluff, Heinze and Morse then requested for the “parked” stocks to be delivered to them, because if these brokers have short positions they would have to cover their positions in order to meet delivery and driving the stock price higher in the process.
However, two things happened. Firstly as the men drove up the stock price earlier many other investors took profit and sell their stocks to eager brokers. Hence, when Heinze and Morse requested for the stocks to be delivered these brokers were able to meet the delivery. In other hand, however, the two men now have to pay to the brokers for all of these delivered stocks and they did not have the money to pay them. Secondly, the short sellers were able to borrow more stocks to short than previously estimated by Heinze and Morse, thus while Heinze and Morse scrambled to raise enough cash by forcibly selling the stocks, the short sellers were driving the stock price down even more. The cornering attempt failed, and one of their brokers Gross & Kleeberg subsequently went bankrupt.
Upon hearing the news of their failure, mass number of people started to withdraw money from any financial institutions associated with these men (they have between them at least 12 banks, all acquired with borrowed money), then spread further to their affiliated banks and Trusts and eventually led to the collapse of Knickerbocker Trust Company. The collapse of the Knickerbocker spread a contagion of fear across the country, where regional banks then withdrew their reserves from New York City banks as quickly as retail customers withdrawing deposits from their regional banks. This classic bank run eventually led to the mass bankruptcies of local banks and businesses, and further fuel the panic-selling of the stock markets (where Jesse Livermore made his short-selling move).
In the midst of the Panic of 1907, JP Morgan stepped up to effectively act as a central bank and organised the [strategically selective] bailouts with his banking cartel to save the market and the economy. JP Morgan famously locked the bankers in his library, and would not let them out until they come up with a plan to stop the panic. And they did stop the panic, with the whole US financial system finally under their control.
Three years later on November 1910 a highly secretive meeting was held at Jekyll Island, an island partly owned by JP Morgan, to discuss a plan to prevent a panic like in 1907 to ever happen again. The meeting was attended by top government officials and New York banking cartel, including Frank. A Vanderlip of the Rockefeller-controlled National City Bank of New York, Charles D. Norton of the Morgan-controlled First National Bank of New York, Paul Warburg of Kuhn Loeb and Henry P. Davidson, the second in command at JP Morgan. The meeting gave birth to the US’ third central bank, with the structure of 12 privately owned regional banks under the Federal Reserve system (or simply called the Fed) where the private sector banks were given the power to appoint as much as two-third of the Fed’s directors.
Among other vital functions, the Fed is specially designed to bailout the financial system in the event of a speculative crash like the Panic of 1907, in which the terms and conditions of the founding of the Fed greatly benefits the banks till this very day. For example Benjamin Strong, JP Morgan’s lieutenant and the ultimate Wall Street insider, became the first President of the New York Fed (the largest by asset and most influential of the 12 regional Fed banks), while Stephen Friedman (a former Goldman Sachs CEO) was the Chairman of the New York Fed during the bailout of 2008 that benefited Goldman Sachs, where he was simultaneously in the Goldman board thus violating the regulation for conflict of interest. Meanwhile decades after the Jekyll Island meeting National City Bank and First National Bank merged to become the First National City Bank of New York (later shortened to Citibank), and during the same bailout of 2008 Citibank was the recepient of the largest bank bailout in history. The current JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon is on the New York Fed’s Board of Directors.
According to Simon Johnson and James Kwak, the creation of the Fed finally provided the market with a safety net that theoretically could prevent a panic like in 1907 to ever occur again. However, after a series of government deregulation conducted by Republican administrations during World War I, and the ultimate decision to keep the laissez-faire (roughly translated as let them do) capitalism system by President Warren G Harding, the environment where lightly regulated market combined with cheap money (low interest rates) and safety net from the Fed inevitably encouraged banks to take speculative risks. And it took only 16 years for this flaw in the system to turn into a disaster.
With lightly regulated market the 1920s became an orgy of rampant speculation driven by investment banks (similar like in the bull market of the 2000s), where investors were unprotected from the luring of complex financial vehicles that they didn’t understand. Furthermore, investors were also able to enhance their positions through margin loans that they can obtain cheaply, thanks to low interest rates set by the Fed. The result is a massive bubble, dominated by the new trends such as radio and automotive stocks and followed by practically every stocks, which ended in a spectacular crash in 29 October 1929.
Some prominent figures like Louis T. McFadden (then Chairman of the House Banking and Currency Committee) argued that the October Crash 1929 was fabricated by the Fed and international bankers to “bring about a condition of despair, so that they might emerge as rulers of us all.” Liaquat Ahamed in his book Lords of Finance identify the bankers in brilliant elaboration as Benjamin Strong (New York Fed), Montagu Norman (Bank of England), Hjalmar Schacht (Reichsbank) and Émile Moreau (Banque de France).
This fabrication was evident in August 1929. While the Fed began to tighten money supply by buying more government bonds to slow down the bubble, at about the same time JP Morgan and John D Rockefeller divested from the stock market and put all their capitals into cash and gold. And soon enough, on 24 October 1929 large Wall Street brokers simultaneously called in their 24 hour “call loans”, which forced investors to sell their stocks at any price to cover their loans, and thus became the trigger for the massive sell-offs few days later.
In yet another painfully similar episode like in the bubble of the 2000s, its subsequent crash in 2008 and the aftermath we’re still experiencing now; the same New York financial firms that were largely the cause of the bubble received a generous bailout, on the ground that they were too big to fail and their failure could led to a total systemic collapse.
The Crash of 1929 not only destroyed billions of dollars worth of paper assets, but also triggered a domino effect of deleveraging where investors, financial institutions and companies were selling anything they could to pay their debts. These actions depressed prices even more and eventually led to the Great Depression. Massive unemployment led to food riots in US cities, factories workers went on numerous strikes in Britain, while in Continental Europe the Great Depression produced a chain-reaction that led to the rise of fascism. Gyula Gömbös became the Prime Minister of Hungary, Benito Mussolini’s grip on Italy got stronger, General Francisco Franco seized power in Spain, while in Weimar Republic (Germany) the economic chaos gave rise to the “populist” National Socialist (Nazi) Party with its leader Adolf Hitler, which gained popularity among the people by blaming the economic wound to bankers and speculators (many of whom were Jewish).
It was during these tough times that John Maynard Keynes wrote his masterpiece The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money. Keynes’ basic idea was simple: in order to keep people fully employed, when the market or economy is in a tough time government steps up through the like of increasing spending and cutting taxes to meet market demand. And when the market or economy is in good times the government can step back a little bit and let the market run its full course. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR), Theodore Roosevelt’s 5th cousin, put some parts of Keynes’ theory into practice with his New Deal, which includes creating public works and farm subsidies, among others.
But it was not until the World War II when the Great Depression was finally over, with the war (ironically fought against the fascist power whose rise to power was made possible by the Great Depression) provided mass job opportunities within the line of the military and its equipment, implementing the full extend of the Keynesian remedy.
The making of a new world order: the rise of king dollar
World War II was the bloodiest chapter ever recorded in human history, with the estimated of 40-72 million people died, more than the 15-65 million casualties in World War I. The war shook the foundations of international economics, and near the end of World War II a meeting took place in the United States (largely came out as the winner of the war) in Washington Hotel in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, with the purpose of to rebuild the international economic system, under US terms.
On July 1944, 44 allied nations signed the Bretton Woods agreement that gave birth to International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (today part of the World Bank Group), which the US have the only veto power over the two organisations. Masterminded by John Maynard Keynes and his American counterpart Harry Dexter White, the two organisations began to operate in 1945 with the primary goal of exchange rate stability among the member states.
To achieve this, the Bretton Woods allied nations were required to peg their respective currencies to the US dollar in which every imbalances of payments were to be stabilised by the IMF. US dollars was then backed by gold, with the gold standard was set at $35/ounce, making the dollar convertible with gold at that price. This in effect gave the Fed and the US government a great deal of power over the economies of the allied nations since they control the US dollar.
By late 1960s gold outflow from the US and dollar accumulation outside the US had increased, while at the same time US’ fiscal deficits from overseas spending (mainly the Vietnam war, as well as the secret bombings of Cambodia that gave rise to the brutal regime of Khmer Rouge) had made the value of US dollar against gold shrink. This situation made the pledge to keep the dollar convertibility price at $35/ounce increasingly difficult for US government. Hence, on 15 August 1971 US president Richard Nixon used prime time television slot to uniterally announce his New Economic Policy (also known as the Nixon Shock), which consist of 3 points: wage and price freeze, a 10% increase on import tariff and the termination of the gold standard.
The first two points of his New Economic Policy sent a shockwave to the Bretton Woods member states, as the wage and price freeze and the 10% tax increase on import had the same immediate impact as 10% currency devaluation for the US dollar. This, according to James Rickards in his book Currency Wars, was like a gun to the head of US trading partners as Nixon deliberately devalued the dollar to immediately repair their negative trade balance at the expense of the trading partners.
Moreover the third point of his New Economic Policy, the termination of the gold standard, effectively ended the original Bretton Woods system and marked what general consensus believe as the beginning of the era of dollar fiat currency. However, in his well-researched book A Century of War, F. William Engdahl implied that US dollar’s fiat currency status was short-lived, because since Nixon abolished the gold standard it only took 2 years for US dollar to become a currency backed by oil, or also known as the Petrodollar system.
The Petrodollar system was created in a meeting on May 1973 in Saltsjöbaden, Sweden (the secluded island resort owned by the Swedish Wallenberg banking family) by a group of 84 of the world’s top financial and political insiders that made The Bilderberg Group. The objective of the meeting was to revitalise the declining power of dollar and to tilt the balance of world power back to the advantage of Wall Street and London financial interests using their most prized weapon, the control of the world’s flow of oil.
In the original copy of the official discussion of the meeting (that was obtained by Engdahl), The Bilderberg group plan to achieve this objective firstly through masterminding a global oil embargo to force a dramatic increase in oil prices. They did this through the central role of US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who was able to create a rift between Israel against Syria and Egypt that eventually led to the October 1973 Yom Kippur war. When the war started US decided to re-supply Israel with arms thus prompted an oil embargo by the Arab nations, which immediately increased oil price from the average of $1.90/barrel in 1949-1970 to $3.01 in 1973, and reached an increase of 400% by January 1974, a target outlined by an American participant in the Bilderberg meeting Walter Levy.
The oil shock created a devastating impact on world industrial growth and world economic growth symbolised by long lines of queues at petrol stations. And the Arab nations was the perfect scapegoat for it, while the real masterminds of the war – the Wall Street banks, London banks and the seven sisters oil corporations (Exxon, Texaco, Mobil, Chevron, Gulf, British Petroleum and Royal Dutch/Shell) – stood quietly at the background and gain enormously from the shock.
Secondly, the Nixon administration then formed an agreement with Saudi Arabia where the US pledged to protect Saudi Arabian oil fields, and in return Saudi Arabia was required to accept only US dollars as payments for oil and put every surpluses of their oil profits in the like of US Treasury Bills, which over time approximately 70% of all Saudi assets are held in the US. By 1975 all of OPEC members have followed Saudi Arabia and began to trade their oil using US dollars as the currency and put all of their surpluses in Wall Street and London banks. This subsequently boosted the demand for dollars as importer nations also piling up dollars for their oil payments.
Thirdly, in a process what Henry Kissinger later called “recycling the petrodollar flows”, with the majority of the oil surpluses in Wall Street and London, the financial institutions then re-lent the money as loans or Eurodollar bonds to the developing countries that are desperate to borrow dollars to finance their oil imports. This created a huge stream of dollar circulation in the world, with dollar backed by the flow of oil trade. In effect, this gave the Fed the control over the oil market since the value of oil is denominated in a currency that they controls, and it also give the Fed an unparalleled ability to create credit and expand the money supply. The ever growing usage of US dollars in oil trade then slowly spread to other commodities as well as bilateral and multilateral trades, making the dollar the undisputed currency for trade and business worldwide.
As described by William R. Clark in his book Petrodollar Warfare, the use of US dollar as the sole currency for oil trading combined with the dollar-denominated debts issued by the IMF and World Bank had allowed the Fed and US government to inject an unprecedented amount of liquidity into their economy, as seen in the immediate effect of the bull market of the 1980s (the decade of greed). Clark argued, however, that without the Petrodollar system the US economy would collapse in a pile of debt, therefore making this system extremely vital. This explains why the US has been formulated an aggressive foreign policy to safeguard their interest on oil, with Henry Kissinger publicly stated in 1975 that the US was prepared to wage war over [the control of] oil. This also partly explains US invasion in Iraq in 2003 and the current pressure towards Iran, with both countries’ problems can be rooted, among several other issues, to their decision to trade oil using euros.
Moreover, the implementation of the Petrodollar system and its Kissinger-engineeded Oil Shock triggered the Kuwaiti Souq Al-Manakh bubble in the early 1980s, where substantial oil profits were used for speculation in the shares of local Gulf companies. Over 3500 million shares changed hands in the first 8 months of 1982, promting the market value up to a staggering $6 billion compared with book value of only $200 million. The bubble was eventually burst when in August a female speculator asked for her cheque to be chased early, thus breaking the spell and triggered a spectacular market crash.
Meanwhile, as the Petrodollar system took effect not long after the Nixon Shock, the collapse of the Bretton Woods system had made the role of IMF and World Bank to drift away from the original Keynesian orientation that emphasised market failures and the role for government in job creation. But it was not until the 1980s when the most dramatic change occurred, during the time when US President Ronald Reagan and his British counterpart Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher were preaching about Chicago School economic ideology.
Chicago School economics is a free market economic ideology shaped in the University of Chicago by Milton Friedman, which advocates a neoliberal economic model with the aim of minimum government intervention, with fiscal austerity, privatisation and market liberalisation as their three fundamental pillars (a complete opposite of the Keynesian model). The Chicago School ideology is rooted from the original thinking of Friedrich von Hayek from the Austrian School, Keynes’ arch rival in the clash that defined modern economics.
While Keynes’ ideas were widely implemented in the period from 1949-1973 (also known as the Golden Age of Capitalism) that marked a steady economic growth, the longest stretch without banking crises and even growing income per capita for developing countries (all of which provided the environment for the Baby Boom); the battle of economic ideas slowly shifted in favour of Hayek and Friedman after the oil crisis of the 1970s created a stagflation in the Keynesian model. Perhaps the one single defining moment of the shift arguably occurred when the newly-elected British Conservative Party leader Margaret Thatcher slammed Hayek’s book The Constitution of Liberty down the table in a visit to Conservative Research Department and pronounced “this is what we believe.”
Under the command of “political soul mate” of Reagan and Thatcher, the IMF and World Bank along with the US Treasury were transformed into Washington Consensus, a missionary vehicle to push the free market ideology to the world in which the US government in the next 3 decades or so would gradually be dominated by Wall Street bankers and multinational corporations more ever than before. In the words of former chief economist at the World Bank, Joseph Stiglitz: “Keynes would be rolling over in his grave were he to see what has happened to his child.”
Washington Consensus, Economic Hit Men, and the rise of globalisation
In his book Globalization and its discontents, Joseph Stiglitz, a neo-Keynesian and a constant critic on the way IMF and World Bank operates, wrote that the Washington Consensus policies were originally designed in response to the so-called Lost Decade of Latin America in the 1980s, during the time when a debt crisis in the Latin American countries caused high inflation, high unemployment level and stagnant economic growth.
Stiglitz argued that the intentions of the Washington Consensus policies made considerable sense, as losses in inefficient state-owned-enterprises (SOEs) contributed to the huge deficits that the Latin American governments amassed. Insulated from competition by protectionist regulations, these SOEs were able to force customers to pay high prices, which combined with the government’s loose monetary policy eventually led to out-of-control inflation. However, this view, as we shall see, barely scratch the surface of what was really going on in the region.
In theory, most countries would arguably be better off if their government are focusing on providing essential public services, and leave the running of the businesses to the private sectors. In addition, trade liberalisation – the lowering of tariffs and other protectionist measure – if implemented in the right way and at the right pace would eliminate inefficient local jobs, attract healthy foreign competitors and create new efficient jobs as a mean to more equitable and sustainable growth for the country’s economy.
The problem occurs, however, when in practice many of these policies not implemented as a mean towards more efficient economy but became ends in themselves, where these policies were often imposed too fast, too harshly, and without first including essential regulatory framework (or preconditions that have to be satisfied) before privatisation and liberalisation can contribute to the economy. This is what the Washington Consensus are known for, with scorecard attitude where high marks given to the countries making the faster transition towards the free-market ideology, regardless of their precondition economic fundamentals, thus wrecking the economy in the process.
Stiglitz provided a simple example from his days at the World Bank, when he visited some poor villages in Morocco in 1998 to observe the impact of the projects implemented by the World Bank and other Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs). While irrigation projects have successfully increased farm productivity enormously, one project, an enterprise for village women to raise chickens, had failed. Originally, the village women obtained their seven-day-old chicks from a government-owned enterprise. However, when the IMF entered the country the IMF told the government that they should not be in a business of distributing chicks, and thus the enterprise stopped selling them and closed down.
While Keynesian ideology believes government activities such as supplying chicks to villagers arise because the market have failed to provide the essential service, the new Chicago School view that the Washington Consensus adopts assumes that the more able private sector would immediately fill the gap.
And sure enough a new private supplier did emerge to provide the villagers with newborn chicks. However, the new private company was far from able, as the death rate of chicks that they supply was high. And because there were no consumer protection, no regulation for monopoly and other precondition policies before the privatisation, the sole private enterprise in the industry was unwilling to provide a guarantee to their buyers and can get away with it. As a result, as the villagers could not risk buying chicks that might die in large numbers, they stop buying altogether. And subsequently, the nascent industry that was built to improve the lives of these poor villagers eventually collapsed.
While unregulated privatisation could cause such harm like in the Moroccan village, unregulated market liberalisation could potentially make the market worse off. This happened in Cote d’Ivoire. Due to privatisation and liberalisation before an adequate regulatory and competition framework was created, in late 1990s a French firm France Telecom was able to penetrate into the country’s telecommunication industry by purchasing the government’s assets, and managed to persuade the government to grant them a monopoly both in the telephone services and in the cellular services. Because there is no regulatory framework to protect the market, the private French firm then raised prices very high thus widening a huge gap in digital access between the rich and poor even further. In other words, the telecom industry just changed hands from inefficient government owned enterprise into a private enterprise abusing the exact same monopoly power, or even worse.
This is not an uncommon sight in the countries that the Washington Consensus “helps”, where strong regulatory framework are not their main concern. Instead, they often focus only on the big macroeconomic picture of a country’s economy such as reducing the size of the government’s deficit, and just leave the liberalised market to take care of itself (to a devastating effect). Indeed, Chicago School style austerity, privatisation and liberalisation could really reduce government’s burden and deficit, but they are often doing so at the expense of a huge social cost, where austerity measures such as cuts in budget for health, education, pensions and infrastructure are complemented with the closing down of SOEs and mass layoffs that creates instant unemployment.
Astonishingly, they often see this social cost as a collateral damage, a much needed shock therapy for the future of the economy, and hoping for the trickle down effect to take place in the newly installed economic system. In reality the free market economic system seldom trickled down to the poor, instead it often benefits only the rich, the politically connected, or in what becomes a major trending problem for the globalised world, the corporations whose purpose are to intentionally exploit the country’s market for a huge profit. Cambridge economist Ha-Joon Chang summed this trickle down delusion in a sentence: “making rich people richer doesn’t make the rest of us richer.”
Of course, the masterminds behind the neoliberal policies are perfectly aware of the devastating impact of their ideology. In fact, in the majority of the cases the chaos that they create are arguably the real intention all along.
This is what actually happened in Latin America, in what to be the blueprint of the Washington Consensus model. By the 1950s, most countries in the continent were adopting a Keynesian-style economic system called Developmentalism. By implementing Developmentalist system politicians like Juan Perón in Argentina spend public money into government sponsored projects such as infrastructure, give generous subsidies to local businesses to build their factories, and protecting local businesses by keeping out foreign imports with high tariff barrier. Meanwhile, the workers in the new factories formed powerful unions that able to negotiate middle-class salaries, and thus can afford to send their children to study at the newly built public universities.
Like the Social Democrats in their European counterparts, the Developmentalists were able to boast impressive success stories, especially in the southern tip of Latin America such as Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and parts of Brazil. During this period of rapid expansion, the gap between the rich and poor narrowed, and these countries began to look like Europe and North America. Uruguay had a 95% literacy rate and offered free health care for all of its citizens, while Argentina had the largest middle class on the continent.
Indeed, the Keynesian revolution prevailed in Latin America. However, while it was a great economic period for these countries, it was an unsettling time for US multinational corporations seeking to penetrate the high barriers of entry towards the booming markets. Something needed to be changed, and according to Naomi Klein’s phenomenal book The Shock Doctrine that’s when the Chicago School stepped in.
Sponsored heavily by multinational corporations, the Chicago School began a counter revolution against Keynesianism across the world, with the objective of a move towards free market capitalism for the countries in which these corporations can benefit from (a disclaimer: of course, not all corporations are evil and not all Foreign Direct Investment intended to harm the country). To achieve their goal, University of Chicago and its global network of right-wing think tanks created a smear campaign movement in American and British foreign policy circle to discredit Developmentalist into the logic of Cold War, where “Third World nationalism” was largely portrayed as the first step on the road to totalitarian Communism.
Two chief architects of this smear campaign were John Foster Dulles, the Secretary of State in the Eisenhower’s administration, and his brother Allen Dulles, the de facto head of the newly-created CIA. Before they entered public offices, the Dulles brothers had worked at New York’s legendary law firm Sullivan & Cromwell, where they represent multinational companies such as JP Morgan, United Fruit Company, the International Nickel Company, National City Bank of New York and the Cuban Sugar Cane Corporation – the companies that had the most to lose from Developmentalism.
The first casualty of the Dulles brothers’ ascendancy was Iran, where in 1953 the democratically-elected Mohammad Mosaddegh, a Prime Minister who identified far more with Keynes than Stalin, was overthrown in a coup d’etat. The coup was a direct response to Mosaddegh’s nationalisation of Iran’s oilfields, which, according to the book Rise to Globalism, after CIA handed the power to Shah Reza Pahlavi the puppet leader divided Iranian oil production to suit the West: the British and American oil companies got 40% each, the Dutch got 14%, with the remaining 6% was given to the French. Interestingly, up until 1979 when Reza Pahlavi was overthrown by the Iranian people, the entire financial empire of his regime was operated from top to bottom by Rockefeller.
One year later in 1954, the CIA staged another coup in Guatemala, after the democratically elected Jocobo Arbenz tried to give back the Guatemalan land to its people by snatching up lands “owned” by United Fruit Company. After the successful coup CIA then installed a puppet dictator, Colonel Carlos Castillo Armas, who made sure that United Fruit Company’s interests were serve above the national interests, making Guatemala the first so-called Banana Republic.
CIA-sponsored military coups were not uncommon in Latin America, where one by one democratically-elected Developmentalists were thrown out and friendly dictators were installed. However, according to a former Economic Hit Man John Perkins all-out military coup is normally the last resort option used by the US to conquer a country. Instead, firstly they will send an Economic Hit Man (EHM) to the target country. If they fail, a secretive group of men called the Jackal will step up to the task, where violent “accidents” or even death of heads of state would normally occur. And if the jackal also fails, as they did fail in Afghanistan and Iraq, only then the task being conducted by the military.
As the front men of globalisation foot soldier, EHM closely resembles the Mafia. Formally disguised as an international consultant representing the like of Monsanto, Nike, Chevron, Wal-Mart, and nearly every other multinational corporation in the world; EHM provide favours to the target country. The favours take the form of loans to the country, usually for infrastructure projects with a condition that all the engineering and construction jobs goes to a US corporation. Hence, in a way most of the money never leaves the US, it is simply changed hands from banking offices in Washington to construction companies in New York or San Francisco.
However, despite the fact that the money come back to the US almost immediately after it comes to the country, the government of the country still required to pay all of the loan back, principal plus interest. If an EHM is successful, the loan is so huge that the recipient country got stuck in an unpayable debt and eventually after several years forced to default. When this happens, then just like the Mafia the EHM demand their pound of flesh, usually in a form of access to vital resources like oil or the Panama Canal, control over UN votes, or the installation of US military bases in the country.
Ecuador is one example of the destruction by EHM. Thanks to EHM projects, Ecuador found itself burdened by a foreign debt so large that in order to pay their foreign obligation the government was forced to sell its rain forests to oil companies (principally to Texaco). The rain forests was of course the main target of the EHM, as it has a sea of oil beneath the Amazon region believed to rival the oil fields in the Middle East. The result was inhuman, where for every $100 of crude oil pumped out from the destructed Ecuadorian rain forests, the oil companies receive $75. For the remaining $25 three quarters of it must used to pay off the foreign debt, with most of the remainder go to military and other government expenses, and leave only $2.50 for health, education and for helping the poor. A PR-staged AID campaign or charity work would normally follow suit in these kind of plunders, with the overall benefit from the AID are much less than what are being taken away from the country.
According to a legendary Uruguayan journalist Eduardo Galeano in his book Open Veins of Latin America: five centuries of the pillage of a continent, when Lenin wrote Imperialism in 1916 of all the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in Latin America less than one-fifth was from the US. However, by 1971 nearly three-quarters of all FDI in Latin America was from the US, where the profits from US corporate investments in these countries were 5 times greater than the infusion of new investments. Galeano then elaborate, in return for the “investments” these corporations were able to break through customs barriers originally erected to prevent foreign competition. And they even can take over the internal industrialising process, where they handpicked the key controlling sectors that are important for determining the course of economic development, and leave the less significant industries to those “inefficient” SOEs Chicago School blamed so much.
Understandably, there are those national heroes who tried to defend their country and fight back, such as Jaime Roldós Aguilera of Ecuador and Omar Torijos of Panama, but both men were mysteriously assassinated, presumably by the Jackal. Some like Fidel Castro succeeded in taking back Cuba from US puppet dictator Fulgencio Batista, but Fidel’s right hand man Che Guevara eventually killed by CIA in Bolivia’s Sierra Maestra and just like the story in George Orwell’s Animal Farm, Fidel Castro himself shamefully turned into a dictator. Meanwhile, with all the destructions “capitalism” seems to bring, a growing number of Marxist movements were born (a self-fulfilling prophecy for Dulles Brothers’ smear campaign) such as Colombia’s anti-imperialist FARC rebel which remains in arms struggle against the “US-ally” Colombian government since 1964 till this day.
Inevitably, unlike in South East Asia decades later where EHM work prevailed, with all the resistant movements occurred in Latin America, all-out coups were needed to “protect US interests” in the region. Hence by the 1970s, the southern cone of Latin America that looked like Europe in the 1950s was completely changed. Brazil was under the control of US-supported junta, with several of Milton Friedman’s Brazilian students held key positions. Chile experienced a brutal coup on 11 September 1973 where democratically-elected President Salvador Allende was assassinated and replaced by CIA-sponsored General Augusto Pinochet, who appointed the so-called Chicago Boys in key ministerial posts. In Uruguay the CIA-backed military also staged a coup in 1973, which then changed the country’s Developmentalist system to Chicago School system. As a consequence, real wages dropped by 28% in Uruguay, and horders of scavengers started to appear for the first time in the streets of Montevideo. Argentina also joined the Keynesian counter revolution in 1976, when a military junta seized power from Isabel Perón.
The impact of these Keynesian counter revolution was very apparent. While multinational corporations thrives in the region, between 1975 and 1982 Latin American debt increased at an annual rate of 20.4%, with external debt increased from $75 billion in 1975 to $315 billion in 1982 (50% of the region’s GDP), and repayment of principals + interest also quadrupled from $12 billion in 1975 to $66 billion in 1982.
It was within this context that the Fed Chairman Paul Volcker raised their interest rates, from the average of 11.2% in 1979 to a peak of 20% in June 1981. As Latin American debts were denominated in US dollar and issued with a floating-interest-rates, the US interest rates rise increased the debt level of these countries up to an unpayable point. As a result, in 1982 Mexico decided that they cannot possibly pay their debts and chose to default. The Mexican default triggered a liquidity dry up across the Latin American countries where international banks stop lending altogether to the battered region. As Latin American loans were mostly short-term, the lending freeze led to a crisis, as a result economic growth became stagnant, unemployment rose to high levels, inflation reduced the buying power of the middle classes, and real wages dropped between 20-40%; resulted what since then known as the Lost Decade of Latin America.
In a first glimpse, Paul Volcker’s rate hike decision was implemented to fight off the unintended imported inflation into the US economy as the effect of Petrodollar recycling of the 1970s. But more specifically, according to F. William Engdahl in his another well-researched book Gods of Money, Volcker’s shock therapy was aimed to prevent the dollar value from collapsing (due to the rising amount circulating worldwide) and was also implemented to make investing in US bonds very attractive.
This however, was intentionally done at the expense of the borrowers of US-dollar denominated debt, from the Latin American countries, to African countries like Nigeria and Congo, to European countries such as Poland and Yugoslavia; which had fallen victim to the debt trap. In a mafia-esque EHM manner, the IMF was then brought in by the Washington Consensus masters to “rescue” the misnamed Third World Debt Crisis with their conditional loans (the conditions of Chicago School trinity of austerity, liberalisation and privatisation), while in reality the IMF practically forced the indebted countries to surrender their national sovereign control over their economy, where the banks and corporations then proceeded with the exploitations.
By the 1980s the Chicago School counter revolution was completed. Milton Friedman sat on the Economic Policy Advisory Board in the Reagan administration, which oversaw the great financial deregulation in the US, while on the other side of the Atlatic Margaret Thatcher also poised to put Friedman’s theory into practice. Moreover, while Latin American countries were experiencing a Lost Decade, the Soviet Union was starting to collapse as the economies of its member states were deteriorating. Resistance movements against the Kremlin began to rise in 1989, which culminated at the end of 1991 with the dissolvement of Soviet Union, which practically ended the Cold War.
The end of the Cold War completed the development for the so-called “dollar hegemony”, with US dollar cemented its position as the most important reserve currency, in the world where US’ free market capitalism system triumphed over Soviet communism. The spread of globalisation then hit full gear, with a lot of multinational corporations were seeking to relocate their basic manufacturing operations to developing countries in a search for low cost, high return and low risk business operation. As a result, in just 7 years FDI flows from developed to developing countries increased sevenfold, with 1 year worth of cross-border investment equal to what previously occurred in a decade. The world became more interconnected than ever, and between 1980s and 1990s almost half of that total capital inflow into the developing countries went to South East Asia.
To be continued in Part 2
- Crisis brings people closer together.
- The world’s entire money supply is $75.75 trillion.
- Turtles can breathe through their ass. Poor animal, so do they faint whenever they take a crap, or what?
- In 1324 Mansa Musa, the emperor of Mali, spent so much gold in Cairo on his way to Mecca that it devalued the gold currency there.
- The world’s first novel is The Tale of Genji. The novel was written by Murasaki Shikibu in the year 1008.
- Went to South Korea in summer. Amazing food, hilarious musicals (Jump and Nanta, a must see), and it got to be the most serendipitous trip ever: we decided to go off-map and just get lost in the country, and got lost we did, several times in fact, in which we always emerge in the randomnest places such as the heavily-guarded presidential palace.
- Our guide lady to the North-South Korean border looks amusingly like the female version of Manchester United’s Park Ji-Sung.
- Every 10 Nov at 9:05am, everyone in Turkey stop their activities and have a minute silence, in memory of the death of the country’s founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.
- Bhutan’s new queen, Jetsun Pema, is gorgeous.
- The word “travel” is derived from the old French word “travail”, which means to work hard.
- The world’s first backpacker is arguably the Italian Gemelli Careri (lived in 1651-1725). His travels, among others travellers’ tale, was one of the inspirations for the novel Around the World in 80 days.
- Australia owns an estimate 40% of the world’s uranium.
- The Australian aborigines experience the sacred realm of “Dream time” as far more real than the material world.
- Which scares me a bit, coz once during 2011 I had a dream of having an affair with a grizzly bear, WTF. A freaking grizzly bear. The one with daddy issues at that.
- This year is the 10th anniversary of 9/11 attack in US soil on 2001. And 38th anniversary of 9/11 attack by CIA in Chile on 1973. If you think 3 thousand people died in the US was a tragedy, 30 thousand people died in Chile would be a catastrophe. Kindly watch this video.
- In Tibet, women have some kind of metal device that they use for picking their noses. I’ve got to get one of those!
- Hinduism had much bigger influence on Indonesia than I previously thought. It’s reflected in its very name “Indonesia” which comes from Indu (Hindu) and nesos (Greek word for island) a word formed by George Samuel Windsor Earl in 1850.
- Indonesia’s national symbol, the Garuda, is Hindu’s king of birds, a half-man half-bird that pledged a lifelong allegiance to God of preserver Vishnu.
- In the story of Ramayana, Rama was the 7th incarnation of Visnu while Sita was the avatar of Lakshmi (Visnu’s wife). Soulmates always end up together?
- Buddha Gautama is believed to be the ninth reincarnation of Visnu.
- There’s a region in Europe where the religion of the population is Buddhism: the Republic of Kalmykia, a federal subject of Russia. It is the only Buddhist region in Europe.
- There’s a really big difference between avoiding conflict, and being fouled at but stay quiet like an idiot to maintain harmony.
- Madagascar supplies around 60% the world’s vanilla.
- Telephone was first invented by Antonio Meucci in 1849 but wasn’t patented. Alexander Graham Bell modified Meucci’s invention and patented it in 1876.
- In ancient Japan, public contests were held to see who could fart the loudest and longest. See, I always thought I was Japanese in my previous life.
- Bartholdi, the sculptor of The Statue of Liberty, originally intended to make the statue as an Egyptian peasant holding a torch of freedom.
- In Greek Mythology the god Aphrodite was made from Uranus’ testicles. That’s right children, the Greek god of love was made from testicles.
- Did I hear you say elaborate on the testicles story? Uranus was the son and husband of Gaia (mother earth), they had 12 children called the Titans. Uranus hated them and was mean to them. One day their youngest son, Cronus, hid in Gaia’s womb and waited for his dad Uranus to penetrate her. When he did, Cronus cut off Uranus’ testicles and throw them into the sea, where the testicles then transformed to be Aphrodite. God, I can’t wait to teach my unborn child all about Greek Mythology.
- In Roman Empire, men “testify” in court by swearing to a statement made by swearing on their testicles.
- Still on the testicles subject, Adolf Hitler, Mao Zedong and Spain’s General Franco all had only one testicle. It is just me or do we find some kind of a dictatorial pattern here?
- When they were young, both Hitler and Stalin were thinking about becoming a priest. Stalin even joined an Orthodox seminary.
- Halloween is originated from Samhain Festival in the Medieval era. It was a sacred Festival of the Dead for the Pagan Celtic tradition.
- Gin, the drink, derives its name from Geneva Switzerland.
- In the 17th century, in their long-fought battle over the control of Spice Islands, British merchants made a deal with rival maritime power Dutch merchants to finally give up their pursue of control over a tiny island of Run (a largely ignored and insignificant island today in modern-day Indonesia) and leave it to the Dutch, while in return the British gained a Dutch-controlled tiny island called Manhattan. Amazing story, told briliantly in the book Nathaniel’s Nutmeg.
- The word coffee comes from Kaffa, the name of a province in southern Ethiopia. It is here in Ethiopia where coffee was first brewed.
- In the 16th and 17th centuries, in the Ottoman Empire, anyone caught drinking coffee was put to death. A very interesting story.
- Between the year 1824 and 1854 coffee brought inflation to Brazil, making labour cost, among other things, doubled. This labour cost rise changed the country’s centre of economic gravity from cotton producers (in the north) and sugar producers (in the north-east) whom could no longer afford labour, to coffee producers in the southern areas.
- Mali is the world’s hottest nation. While Ulan Bator (Mongolia) is the coldest capital in the world, followed by Astana (Kazakhstan) as the second coldest.
- Hottie of the year: Sherine Tadros. Smart, fearless, idealist and drop dead gorgeous.
- The best book I’ve read this year: I really can’t decide between Treasure Island by Nicholas Shaxson, The Big Short by Michael Lewis and Griftopia by Matt Taibbi
- Over half the world’s cork is exported by Portugal.
- There’s an ANNUAL World Masturbating Championship. Masanobu Sato holds the world record for masturbating for 9 hours and 58 minutes. He said that in the competition he got support from his girlfriend, co-workers and of course, loving family. Dude. That’s weird in so many levels.
- Nevertheless, Benjamin Netanyahu is still the undisputed wanker of the year.
- Israel’s diamond-trade funds war crimes.
- Through the Balfour Declaration 1917 the British supported the international Zionist movement to create a Jewish homeland in Palestine. The British, however, supported the movement to gain counter-support from the Jewish community for their increasingly unpopular military actions during World War 1.
- Biggest let down of the year: when I heard that Sepp Blatter was caught in the spotlight for his comment on racial issue, he immediately post a picture of him hugging Tokyo Sexwale. I thought to myself Tokyo sex whale? Those kinky Japanese, now this I gotta see! But as it turns out, he’s just hugging a politician from South Africa.
- The circumference of the earth is 40,000 KM.
- The word Himalaya comes from Tamil or Dravidia language of Him (snow) and Malaya (mountain), hence it means snow mountain.
- During British occupation in South East Asia, settlements who came from India called the locals (who lived in mountains) Malayans. Hence, the name Malaya (modern-day Malaysia).
- What’s legal aren’t necessarily right, I mean slavery and apartheid were once legal. So do the repackaging of US sub-prime mortgage bonds into AAA-rated CDOs and the proceeding sales and trades of “safe” CDO and its CDS, the root-cause of this global economic catastrophe.
- In parts of rural Nepal, people make houses using shit. Talking bout going green, well, brown.
- The original unlucky Friday the 13th happened on Friday 13 October 1307, when King Philip IV of France arrested and tortured the Knights Templars.
- The Knights Templars were the lender of king Philip IV’s massive debt pile. The king couldn’t pay them back, so he attacked them instead.
- The ancient Aztec civilization used chocolate as their currency.
- The first ever bar of chocolate was made in 1819 by a Swiss confectioner Francois-louis cailler.
- In the book Beyond Oil, Kenneth S. Deffeyes argued that the Reagan administration encouraged Saudi Arabia to lower the price of oil to the point where the Soviets could not make a profit from selling their oil, so that the USSR hard currency reverses became depleted. Fascinating stuff (But don’t read the book, it’s crap).
- 90% of Saudi Arabia’s economy is in the hands of the US.
- My person of the year is of course Mohamed Bouazizi, who else?
- Bahrain was Iran’s 14th province, before they held referendum and opt for independence.
- Apparently we can have quite a full adventure in only just 48 hours. Me, my missus and some friends hiked a mountain, rode a horse towards an active volcano, got caught in the middle of a pretty huge storm of volcanic ash, visited 2 cities and had culinary travels within just 48 hours in East Java.
- Photography was invented in 1838 by a Frenchman named Louis Daguerre.
- From 875 million guns in the world, 270 million owned by US citizens, with ratio of 90 guns for 100 people. And they’re still shocked whenever there’s a gun shooting incident?
- The great Mongolian warrior Genghis Khan died in bed while having sex.
- In Mongolia, two of the most popular brands of beer are Genghis and Khan.
- Do you know where Hell is? It’s in Norway. Specifically in Lånke area of the municipality of Stjørdal, in Nord-Trøndelag county, Norway. I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but Hell is a very peaceful place.
- There’s a town named Shit’ in Ethiopia. Shit’ has a 10 square km area (HA!), with elevation of 2379m above sea level. Wow Shit’s pretty high.
- And there’s a village named Fucking in Austria. The village is in municipality of Tarsdorf, where I assume is safe to shout “where’s that Fucking village?!”
- So, we have Fucking, Shit and Hell. Put it in a sentence, and we got ourselves one hell of an itinerary!
- The Federal Reserve System is the third central bank in the US history, established through Glass-Owen bill in 1913. The First Bank of the United States was established in 1791 and the Second Bank of the United States was established in 1816, but both failed after 20 years.
- The third central bank, The Federal Reserve System, is an agreement prepared by New York banking cartel, at a highly secret meeting held on Jekyll Island in November 1910. On the surface, the central bank was established to put order out of the chaos in “years of wilderness in US banking” since the 2nd central bank collapse (a historically bogus claim).
- But in reality, the Federal Reserve System was actually created to solve a banking crisis that the New York banking cartel themselves manufactured, in which the solution (the creation of the Fed) greatly benefits the banking cartel till this day.
- This year’s best lesson would probably be this: Both communists and free-market capitalists have the same characteristics after all: abundant wealth and immunity from crime-prosecution for those in power.
- Attended a royal wedding (Yogyakarta’s royal wedding), and even took part in the highly publicized star-studded wedding ceremony.
- The storage capacity of human brain exceeds 4 Terabytes.
- William Shakespeare lived in this world for exactly 51 years. He was born on 23 April 1564 and died on 23 April 1616. That’s hauntingly amusing.
- Crazy gold swing during the summer. But gold would need to climb all the way to $3675 / ounce to cover all paper currency and coins.
- Throughout history there were powers which lasted for centuries, some for few years, but The republic of Subcarpathian Ruthenia lasted only for 1 day. It declared its independence at around 10 am on 15 March 1939 from Czechoslovakia, when Hitler’s army invade all Czechoslovakia except Subcarpathuan Ruthenia. But then by the evening it was conquered by Hungarian army.
- There’s a village named wetwang in East Riding of Yorkshire, England. Wetwang has a beautiful WET pond. HA!
- The word “assassin” is derived from “Hashshashin”, a group of men lived in Persia in 11-13th century famous for cruelty and appetite for hashish.
- According to the book “Criminal Prosperity: Drug Trafficking, Money Laundering and Financial Crisis after the Cold War” by Guilhem Fabre , the Mexican crisis 1994 and its “tequila effect” is placed in the context of a “cocaine effect”, due to the local laundering of drug profits in the US.
- The report also suggest that the Thai Crisis of 1997 also included a massive money laundering of institutional and criminal networks, whose undeclared profits represent about 10% of the Thai GDP.
- And the Japanese Crisis of the 1990s is related to the economic influence of the Yakuza on the real estate bubble.
- The mafia name Yakuza comes from the number 8-9-3 (Ya-Ku-Za), the losing hand in Oicho-Kabu (a form of black jack). The name means outcasts in society.
- If you fart consistently for 6 years and 9 months, enough gas is produced to create the energy of an atomic bomb.
- There’s a medical condition called Pregmancy. It is a condition when a husband is so connected with his wife and so sympathetic towards his wife’s pregnancy that he literally experience all the sickness, the cramps and cravings in TANDEM with his pregnant wife. Doesn’t make sense, I know, but I had pregmancy when my missus was on her 1st trimester.
- L. Frank Baum created the story of “Wonderful Wizard of Oz” in 1900 for debating US Monetary Policy, in support for Bimetallism.
- Amnesty International’s logo (a candle wrapped in barbed wire) was inspired by the ancient Chinese proverb “it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.”
- The US spends 54% of its tax revenue on war. And there are 900 US military bases across the world, many at the gateways to the sources of oil. The US also engaged militarily in 75 countries.
- During World War 1 10% of all casualties were civilians, during World War 2 50% of all casualties were civilians, during Vietnam war 70% of all casualties were civilians, while in the Iraq war civilians are counted up to 90% of all deaths.
- Despite being a landlocked country, Laos has 4000 islands. They all are scattered in the Mekong River.
- In Iceland, folklore says that if you bathe naked in the morning dew on the morning of 24 June, you are supposed to keep aging at bay for longer.
- The character Indiana Jones is inspired by Hiram Bingham III, the first Westerner to found ancient ruins of Machu Picchu in 1911.
- Light bulb was first invented by Sir Joseph Wilson Swan on 1878 in England. Thomas Alva Edison perfected the prototype and patented it. But then in 1892 Edison’s company merged with Swan’s and created General Electric, where the company produce light bulbs using Swan’s original prototype.
- Liechtenstein used to have the world’s smallest army: 1 soldier. He served his country faithfully until his death at the age of 95.
- Leonardo Da Vinci was apparently gay.
- And so was the legendary economist John Maynard Keynes.
- Historically speaking, Christmas is derived from the Persian celebration of “Yalda”, which was celebrated throughout the ancient world since 1735 BC.
- In the ancient world, the date 25 December was also celebrated as the birthday of Mithra. Many Jewish, Christian and Muslim customs have root in Mithraism.
- What a phenomenal year 2011 has been for global politics and economics news. Among many other big events: The Arab Spring that toppled dictators Ben Ali, Hosni Mubarak, Muammar Gaddafi and the continuous revolution in Yemen, Bahrain and Syria. Political deadlocks in US Congress, US debt surge pass $15 trillion mark and the horrible decline in US economy where now 1 in 2 Americans is poor or low income. EU sovereign debt mess, “shock doctrines” in Greece and Italy that ousted George Papandreou and Silvio Berlusconi and the installment of cabinet full of technocrats in both countries. Death of Osama Bin Laden and Kim Jong-il. Occupy movements that began in Wall Street then spread across the world, and of course the unthinkable protests by Russians against Vladimir Putin’s regime.
- 2011 is definitely a year of great changes. Got a funny feeling that what happened this year were only the beginning towards something bigger in the near future. Can’t wait to see what 2012 have in store!
As published in the edited version in The Jakarta Globe.
Those who bias-ly portray Islam as an extremist religion obviously haven’t heard about Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile, the so-called “Catholic Monarch” in the 15th century, who got rid of the Muslims and Jews in their kingdom and slaughtered thousands of non-believers to “preserve the purity of Catholic religion” in the Iberian peninsula.
Their descendants, also a Catholic fundamentalist, slaughtered the Protestants in the Dutch Revolution in 16th century. Hence, translated into these bias people’s way of thinking, Catholicism is ALSO an extremist religion.
And there’s of course the Israeli government, who from time to time is trying to justify their human rights violations on Gaza by quoting religion. So that’s Judaism checked too. Or those Hindu extremist who siege the Mumbai hotel few years ago, and the Buddhist extremists in Myanmar that slaughter the Rohingyas. If you read deep into history, the Aryans in the steppes were starting to invade neighbouring tribes around 4500 BC on behalf of their god. And don’t forget about the devout Christian George W Bush who controversially named his offense “Crusades” in the War on Terrorism.
My point is: Religion is not violent or peaceful, but people are violent or peaceful. And religion is an interpretation. These religious extremists (all religion) have different interpretations on what supposed to be a sacred and peaceful way of life, or they simply use religion to mask or justify their disgraceful conducts.
There are around 1.6 billion Muslims around the world right now, so even if there are 1 million extremists, they are not the majority.
I condemn what Al-Qaeda did on 9/11, but I can understand how they were frustrated with the Saudi corrupt regime and its “strong ally” United States of America, and with what the US is doing with the Middle East in the name of oil. If US “extremist” can come to Arab land and make significant destruction and death toll, why Arab “extremists” that come to US land and trying to do the same, with far less damages made compared with what the US did, became a global problem?
Of course, neither of their conducts have anything to do with religion, because if you dig deep into their stories it’s all politics, and that is also my point. Al Qaeda is using religion as their justification, so frankly speaking they are destroying the sacred image of Islam (and Western media propaganda isn’t helping either). The dangerous thing is not solely Al Qaeda, but also their groupies. Hence the presence of Jamaah Islamiyah’s Abu Bakar Basyir in Indonesia.
I have no idea what Basyir and other extremists are trying to do in Indonesia, but one thing is for sure: the people they recruit mostly are unemployed and uneducated people who are easily manipulated by religious doctrines. And for the milder case of extremist groups, you have no idea how many rich Ustads out here in Indonesia. Just like what L Ron Hubbart said “if you want to be a millionaire, start a religion.”
And it’s getting uglier by the year. In Jakarta, a lot of “religious events” deliberately take place in the middle of a busy street with seemingly thousands of devout followers sitting idly, or sometimes the events are located snap bang in the center of Jakarta’s night live scenes. And the law enforcement? They didn’t do a thing about it, in fact as the years progressed the governor of Jakarta also attended one of the events despite of public outrage.
One prominent extremist group, FPI (Ironically named Front Pembela Islam, or Islam Defendant Front), are terrorising the Indonesian citizens (a lot of moderate Muslims at that) with their extreme version of “law enforcement”, destroying “unholy places” in night life areas (but they somehow miss one particular bar that hypocritically owned by one of the Ustads). FPI also famously protested very vocally against the existence of Playboy Indonesia (which in Indonesia didn’t show naked pictures) but yet they stay quiet on those nastier magazines (which, according to a widespread public opinion, pay bribe to them).
Yes religion is a lucrative business for them, and those hard core (and undoubtedly sinful) night clubs in Jakarta (logically their biggest targets) stay untouched, perhaps because they pay big bribes or these extremists simply too afraid to bother the mafias.
Sadly the Indonesian government are too afraid to tackle most of them.
Their excuse? Too afraid to disrupt religious activities (including those who bluntly terrorising the citizens) in the name of religious tolerance. How ironic, considering that religious life in Indonesia had been relatively harmonious before these extremists started to appear (I’m personally a Muslim with family ranged from Muslim to Christian, Catholic and Buddhist. My loving grandmother is a Pentecostal. And we all live very happily together). And now these so-called defendants of Islam are actually tainting the image of the peaceful religion, and starting to slowly divide Indonesian society with brutal extremism. How long will the Indonesian government keep quiet?
All is riddle, and the key to a riddle is another riddle – Ralph Waldo Emerson
The year was 1961. A US meteorologist Edward Lorenz was working on a mathematical modeling of a weather prediction system, using a digital computer Royal McBee LGP-30. In the simulation he wanted to recreate a weather sequence that he had simulated a year earlier, but this time he began the sequence midway and used only 3 decimal places instead of the 6 decimal places in his original simulation.
This minor and seemingly insignificant change, to his surprise, dramatically changed the sequence and made both the old and new calculations become comparatively different. Moreover, in what become known as Lorenz Attractors, this discovery suggested that even the most detailed weather modeling could only predict weather pattern no more than 1 week, due to the system’s sensitivity towards the tiniest random changes.
This accidental occurrence intrigued him, and over the next several years he researched this chaotic phenomenon even further, which culminated in 1972 when he presented a paper to American Association for the Advancement of Science with the title “Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly’s Wings in Brazil set off a Tornado in Texas?”
The paper coined the term Butterfly Effect, and received positive feedback from the scientific community, in which some even praise his findings as 1 of 3 scientific breakthroughs in the 20th century, alongside Theory of Relativity and Theory of Quantum Mechanics. Edward Lorenz became the father of Chaos Theory.
The Butterfly Effect
A butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil may represent a very small and largely insignificant event in the overall atmospheric system. But just like changing the decimal points from 6 to 3, when the butterfly flaps its wings it might start-off some kind of chain reactions that ultimately could cause a tornado in Texas.
Just like the butterfly effect, sometimes 1 seemingly small and insignificant point in history is all it takes to start-off series of chain-reactions that would eventually changed the world. Had this point of history not occurred, Spain wouldn’t become a country, the Dutch Golden Age might not happen, the global financial market might not exist, the country of Philippines would have a different name, my country Indonesia would still consist of individual kingdoms, Maya Inca Aztec empires might still exist till this day, and we all would still rely on candles as light bulbs would never exist. Hence, had this point of history not occur, the world that we currently live in would be completely different.
To be exact, this 1 small and seemingly insignificant point in history occurred on 19 October 1469.
The day that changed the world
Isabella of Castile was born on 22 April 1451 in Madrigal de las Altas Torres. When she was 3 years old her father King John II died and was replaced by her 26 year old half-brother Henry IV.
King Henry IV originally intended to put his daughter Joanna as the heiress to the throne, but the nobles in the kingdom of Castile wanted Alfonso (Isabella’s younger brother) as the heir, which sparked the Second Battle of Olmedo in 1467. The battle was a draw, and Henry agreed to make Alfonso the heir if he would marry Joanna. This agreement, however, was short-lived when Alfonso died because of the plague, and when Henry discovered that Joanna might not be his biological daughter.
Isabella, whom got the backing from the nobles, then offered a truce with Henry to end the war with the arrangement that Isabella would be named the heiress and in exchange Isabella would have to ask for Henry’s consent if she wants to get married, giving Henry the power to still control the succession line of the throne. Henry agreed on the truce, and afterward several match-making candidates were offered to Isabella by Henry, with the likes of King Edward IV of England, Alfonso V of Portugal, Pedro Giron and Charles (the Duke of Berry). But Isabella fell in love with Ferdinand II of Aragon.
Like any romantic tales their love was prohibited, because they didn’t get the consent from Henry on the basis that their grandfathers were brothers, making them second cousins. But this didn’t stop them from getting married, when one day Isabella managed to escape the surveillance of Henry with the excuse of visiting her brother’s tomb, while Ferdinand managed to smuggle himself into Castile in a disguise as a merchant. Finally, in the Palacio de los Vivero, in the city of Valladolid, Ferdinand of Aragon married Isabella of Castile on 19 October 1469. The butterfly began to flap its wings.
Ferdinand and Isabella got married with a clear prenuptial agreement on power sharing. And when Henry IV died in 1474 Isabella became Queen Isabella I of Castile, while in 1479 Ferdinand succeeded his father and became King Ferdinand II of Aragon. Together, Ferdinand and Isabella united the various states in the two kingdoms under the same political Crown, making the base of the creation of the Kingdom of Espana (Spain) that would be realized later by their grandson.
In 1492 Ferdinand and Isabella further expanded their kingdom in the Iberian peninsula by conquering the Islamic kingdom of Granada. Meanwhile at the same year Ferdinand and Isabella issued the Alhambra Decree, a religious purification document in which Jews had to convert to Christianity or faced with expulsion from Aragon and Castile. This triggered a mass exodus of Jews to other European kingdoms, and gave Ferdinand and Isabella the nickname of the “Catholic Monarch.”
The Alhambra Decree was also signed by the defeated Emir of Granada Muhammad XII, where Muslims in the kingdom received an exemption for not converting to Christianity. But later on in 1502 this agreement with the emir of Granada was broken by Ferdinand, and the expulsion of the Muslims alongside the Jews, as we will see later, became a chain reaction that will eventually contribute to the bankruptcy of Spain.
But for now in 1492, the Jews were the only ones having a mass exodus out from Aragon and Castile, leaving behind a financially broke kingdom after Ferdinand and Isabella’s expensive conquest to capture the kingdom of Granada. It is in this context that a desperate explorer from Republic of Genoa came forward to Isabella for the second time to get a funding from her, after numerously failed to convince other monarchs in Europe of his audacious plan. The desperate explorer’s name was Christopher Columbus.
The road to the Indies
There were once stood in the face of the earth the second largest empire in the history of the world, the Mongol Empire. Consisted of several tribes, the empire was first united in 1206 under the leadership of Genghis Khan. Over the next several decades the genius but brutal strategies of Genghis Khan and his successors vastly expanded the empire (Genghis Khan himself subjugated more lands and people in 25 years than the Romans did in 400), which at its height stretched from Budapest in the west to Shanhaiguan in the East, from Russia in the north to Tibet in the south.
The large area of the Empire across Eurasia under one political control made the West-East trade route (the legendary Silk Road) safe once again. Thus, in what became known as Pax Mongolica (Mongol Peace) the trade routes was re-established, and international trade and commerce was booming.
Traveling caravans came to the West from what then known largely as the Indies (places in South and South East Asia such as India and Spice Islands) as well as Persia and China, bringing silk, pepper, nutmeg, cottons, pearls, precious stones, carpets and leather goods, among others. And in return Europeans brought fine cloth, silver, horses, linen and others to the East. Along with these goods, people, techniques, information and ideas also moved across the Silk Road, created wonderful travel tales along the way such as the great journeys of Marco Polo and Ibn-Batuta.
However, just like the decline of the Roman Empire, the Mongol Empire started to decline when it became too big to manage. Regional struggles, corruption, rivalries between leaders, separatist revolts and diseases brought the empire down slowly and hence began to threatened the Pax Mongolica. And then in 1453 Constantinople was defeated by the Ottoman Turks, and along with the fall of this last remaining Eastern Roman Empire, the land route to Asia became dangerous and difficult once again.
One of the earliest pioneers who tried to solve this trade-route problem was King John II of Portugal, who sought to reach the Indies by sea. In 1488 Bartolomeu Dias achieved this conquest by finding a route through sailing around Africa, where he reached his furthest point when his ship anchored in Kwaaihoek, a small island off the eastern coast of the present day South Africa. Dias initially wanted to continue to sail to the Indies, but several difficulties prevented him to go further. But his pathway discovery was enough to set numerous expeditions by Portugal in the next decade, which all ended in failure, that is until Vasco Da Gama finally landed in Kappad, India, on 20 May 1498.
Meanwhile back in 1480s, with land routes considered dangerous and eastwards sea route hasn’t been found yet, a 34 year old Christopher Columbus had another idea, he constructed an alternative plan to reach the Indies by sailing west across the Atlantic. Initially, Columbus presented his plan to John II of Portugal in 1485. But his idea was rejected by the king’s team of experts on the base that Columbus travel distance estimation of 3860 km was too short. In the next few years Columbus also traveled to Genoa and Venice to present his plan but with no success, while he also sent his brother to present to Henry VII of England but the king lingered in making any decision.
In 1486 Columbus sought out Queen Isabella of Castile, but her team of experts too judge Columbus’ estimation of the distance was too short. Based on the advice of her experts Isabella rejected Columbus’ plan, but to keep her options open she gave him annual allowance of 12,000 maravedis and ordered all cities and towns in the kingdom to provide him food and accommodation without cost. In 1488 Columbus appealed to the court of Portugal but was also rejected for the second time, mainly because Bartholomeu Dias had just returned successfully from circling Africa, thus Portugal’s focus is now to control the Eastern sea route.
It is in this desperate time that Columbus (now 41 years old) came forward to Isabella for the second time in 1492. Financially broke from the expensive conquest of Granada, and after the unpopular expulsion of the Jews in the same year, Isabella had no desire to implement a risky bet and turned down Columbus’ plan once more. But when Columbus was about to leave the kingdom in despair, Ferdinand intervened. After much consultation with her husband, Isabella then sent the royal guard to pick Columbus back, where his plan was finally accepted.
The Gold Rush
Christopher Columbus began his westward journey to the Indies on 3 August 1492, funded by various private Italian investors and ultimately by the sponsorship of the kingdom of Castile. On 12 October 1492 he landed in the Caribbean island of Guanahani (The Bahamas), and accidentally became the first European todiscover the American continentafter the Vikings in the 11th century, and 70 years after the Chinese set foot in the continent. Columbus however, insisted that he had reached the Indies (East Indies), thus called the indigenous people the Indians, while in fact he landed in what later to be known as West Indies (This partly explain why the continent wasn’t named after Columbus, but instead named after a Florentine explorer Amerigo Vespucci, whom later in 1508 was made the chief navigator of Aragon and Castile by king Ferdinand, and controversially became the first person to correctly claim the discovery of the new continent).
Ever since his discovery, between 1492 and 1503 Columbus completed 4 round-trip voyages between Europe and America, conquering first the islands in the Caribbean and later expanded into Central America. Columbus’ discovery in 1492 also marked the beginning of the European Exploration Era and the long and brutal colonization of the American continent, which over the first century and a half the native population plummeted by approximately 80%.
In 1504 Queen Isabella died, and after the death of King Ferdinand in 1516 their grandson Charles I became king (he took the throne due to the mental illness of his mother and the death of his father) and effectively founded the sole kingdom of Spain. Under the rule of king Charles I the Spaniards defeated the Aztec Empire in 1521, in which they looted the riches in the capital Tenochtitlan. They then continued to raid the Chibcha people of Colombia (the original El Dorado) before battling the Inca Empire in the 1530s.
Among the riches that they looted from the natives, gold and silver were abundant. And it is estimated that from the beginning of the European Exploration in the early 1500s till 1800, around 2739 to 2846 tons of gold (around 70% of world production at that time) were shipped out from the Americas, which at the price of $400 per ounce would have the approximate value of $36 billion.
The Spaniards melt most of the gold and silver that they “found”, so that they could be shipped efficiently back to Spain. Their shipments from the Americas arrived once a year in Spain, but the monarchs who got accustomed to the luxury started to spend their portion before the shipments even arrived. To do so, the monarchs borrowed money in advance from their citizens, with the promise to pay it back once the gold and silver arrived. But the monarchs never take into consideration the potential amount of lost due to piracy, or whether the ship ever arrived at all. This, as we will see later, contributed to the bankruptcy of Spain and became one of the main reasons of the Dutch revolution.
Meanwhile, thanks to the big inflow of gold import from the Americas, apart from the luxury of gold that the monarchs enjoyed, it is estimated that between 1500 and 1600 prices in Spain rose significantly by 400% while wages remained relatively stagnant for its civilians, thus created poverty.
Most Christian Spaniards at that time worked as peasants, farmers, manufacturers, ranchers, craftsmen or served as soldiers. And due to the ever increasing inflation, their money lost its value and became so limited that they were only able to produce few goods. Hence Spain had to import the supply of goods from other states. This added pressure to the already dying national industries and further spread the gold rush to these importer states in a form of payments.
Moreover, regardless of their profession, the Spaniards had little education and could not read, write nor work with numbers. The educated middle class in the kingdom used to be the Jews and Muslims that they kicked out and without them the Spaniards proved highly ineffective in managing their commercial and financial matters.
In the rush for job and commerce opportunities, people from many states began to come to Spain to fill the role as the middle class society, with the likes of Italian merchants, German moneylenders and Dutch manufacturers. These people, however, took their profit back home without reinvested it back to the Spanish economy, which resulted in a a further outflow of capital from Spain to these states (which among other causes led to Spain’s eventual bankruptcy), flourishing these states’ economies and partly contributed to what later became the Dutch Golden Age.
The battle of the 17 Provinces
Through complicated series of dynastic marriages, succession lines and conquests, at the beginning of the 16th century most European kingdoms were inter-connected with each others.
When Charles I of Spain was born in 1500 in Ghent, Ghent was part of the Burgundian state of the Netherlands, and the Netherlands was part of the Habsburg Empire since 1477. While in 1516 Charles inherited Aragon and Castile (due to his maternal line from Ferdinand and Isabella), in 1519 he also became ruler of the Habsburg Empire and became Charles V of Holy Roman Emperor (due to his paternal line, which he succeeded from his grandfather Maximilian I), making the Netherlands automatically part of the Spanish Empire ruled by the Habsburgs, or simply called the Spanish Netherlands. The Spanish Netherlands consisted of 17 provinces and around 300 cities, with population estimated at 3 million.
During Charles’ reign, the Protestantism movement was starting to gain ground in Europe. Initiated on 31 October 1517 in the university town of Wittenberg, the Protestantism movement began when a German Augustinian priest, Martin Luther, posted 95 theses that protested the corrupt practices of the Roman Catholic Church. In his theses Martin Luther mainly criticized the Church’s doctrines of purgatory, the authority of the Pope and in particular the Church’s sale of indulgences as a mean of funding a massive construction project to build the St. Peter’s Basilica.
Based on the 95 theses the Protestantism movement soon spread across Europe, especially northern part of Europe, in 3 waves. While the first wave of the original movement did not spread to the Netherlands, the second wave, the Anabaptism, reached the Netherlands and became very popular especially in the counties of Holland and Friesland. King Charles I as a devout Catholic tried to fight the rapidly spreading new religion from 1523, he made Protestantism a capital offense and prosecuted more than 1300 people along the way. This put gasoline in an already burning fire, as his action further escalated the anger of the Dutch people towards the Spanish ruler.
The Dutch people’s early resentment towards Spain was rooted in the empire’s taxation on them. In those days, the Netherlands was a wealthy state that thrived in trade and industry. And the “overseas” Dutch workers who sent back money home from Spain also contributed to the flourishing economy. Hence, the Netherlands became an important source of income for the treasury of the Spanish Empire, which Charles imposed heavy taxation to the Dutch people to fund his wars and conquests against the Turks, French and Germans.
But on the other hand, with all the taxed money taken away from them, guidance and support for the Dutch was almost none existence from the Spanish government. This, along with Charles’ quest to fight Protestantism fueled the anger of the Dutch people, and became the root cause of what years later became known as the Dutch Revolution.
Meanwhile back in Spain, with gold and silver shipments often being disrupted in the Atlantic sea, the Spanish monarchs found themselves increasingly in debt to its citizens. However the monarchs never pay back their debt, as they felt no obligation over their ruled subjects. Subsequently, the citizens started to hide their money from the ruler and quit lending money altogether.
In order to maintain their lavish lifestyle, the monarchs then seek fund from foreign bankers and creditors in Genoa, Germany and Flanders at rates of interest up to 18% per annum. Needless to say, although the Spanish Empire ruled one of the largest area in the world, from the Americas to the large area in Europe, their economy was a mess, they were constantly living in debt, had a huge trade imbalance and at the mercy of their creditors.
It was in this situation that in 16 January 1556 Phillip II of Spain became king. Philip succeeded his father Charles I, whom left Philip with a debt of around 36 million ducats and annual deficit of 1 million ducats. Charles also left Philip a federation of separate states (instead of a single monarch with 1 unifying legal system) under the control of the Spanish Empire, with boiling resentment in the Netherlands towards the Spanish ruler. Just after a year of Philip’s reign, Philip defaulted on their enormous debts and declared Spain’s first bankruptcy in 1557.
In the 1560s the third wave of Protestantism, Calvinism, arrived in the Netherlands. The Calvinists was more successful than the Anabaptists in becoming a significant influence in the Netherlands, with them able to convert the common population, mostly in the southern province of Flanders, as well as the elites. King Philip II as a devout Catholic followed the footsteps of his father Charles and his great grandparents Ferdinand and Isabella, by declaring war towards the Calvinists to preserve the “purity” of the Catholic religion in his Empire.
In 1566, Philip’s army started to engage in a brutal war with the Calvinists in the Beeldenstorm Battle. This war worsen the condition in the Netherlands after the bad harvest of 1565 that spread hunger among the people. This finally exploded the anger of the Dutch people, which prompted William the Silent (or better known as William the Orange), a Calvinism convert, to lead the Calvinist Dutch in Eight Years War against the Catholic Spain. The provinces of Holland and Zeeland eventually fell into the hands of the Calvinists in 1572.
In 1575 Philip defaulted Spain’s huge debt once again. Philip acquired these debts to fund simultaneous wars across Europe, and with his unwillingness to pay his debts, the creditors completely stopped the funds flowing to him, including the funds to pay his troops. The troops rebelled in 1576, and in what later to be known as “Spanish Fury” they attacked, mutinied, plundered and burnt the city of Antwerp to make up for their unpaid salary, killing around 8000 lives.
This violent episode strengthened the resolve of 7 provinces (out of 17) in the Netherlands to set themselves into the path of independence. In 23 January 1579 these 7 provinces were united by the Union of Utrecht, and formed the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands (or in short United Provinces). Few days before, in 6 January 1579 some of the southern provinces in the Netherlands (mostly present-day Belgium) formed another union, the Union of Arras, and declared their support for the Spanish government.
Effectively, the 17 provinces of the Netherlands were divided into a southern group loyal to the Spanish king, and a rebellious group in the north. The rebel north formally signed it’s declaration of independence through The Act of Abjuration, on 26 July 1581.
The making of the modern financial market
At the beginning of the 16th century, the city of Antwerp was the richest city in Europe. As the largest city in the Netherlands, it was the cultural, economic and financial center of the 17 provinces and north-western Europe, and in fact it was also the center of the entire international economy, which accounted for 40% of world trade.
In its glory days, hundred of ships would pass Antwerp’s ports in a day, 2000 carts would entered the city each week and many foreign merchants resided in this vibrant city. In addition, it was estimated that the port of Antwerp earned the Spanish Empire 7 times more revenues than the expeditions in the Americas. With its yearlong permission of continuous fair and fast moving flow of goods, Antwerp gave birth to the first settled “bourse”, a gathering place for buy and sell interactions, named after a merchant gathering place in Bruges with the name Hotel des Bourses.
When United Provinces was formed by the rebel north, Antwerp became the capital city of the Dutch Revolution, making it a strategically important target for the Spanish troops. During the war between Spanish Empire and the United Provinces, king Philip’s troops looked set to completely reconquer the whole Netherlands, when another war broke between Spain and England. Short of men, the Spanish troops withdrawn their advances in the Netherlands and was forced to retreat. However, before retreating they had managed to reconquer the strategically important trading cities of Bruges and Ghent, while on 17 August 1585 the Spanish troops managed to recapture the city of Antwerp.
Like Ferdinand and Isabella who got rid of the Jews and Muslims from their kingdom in 1492, under the terms of surrender in 1585 Philip asked the Protestant population of Antwerp to reconvert to Catholicism, or else they were given 2 years to settle their affairs before leaving. Many chose to leave, and so a mass exodus of protestants moved from Antwerp to the United Provinces in the north, with most moved to Amsterdam, marking the beginning of the Dutch Golden Age.
Among those who left, the merchants and traders who made Antwerp such a glorious city migrated to Amsterdam, brought their capital and trading skills with them and created the “new Antwerp.” Subsequently, by the early 17th century Amsterdam became the financial capital of Europe, with the management of established pool of double-entry bookkeeping, banks and joint-stock companies. And in 1610 a new “bourse” or exchange was born, providing the trading platform for various types of financial products and services such as stock market, current exchange, money market, finance market, maritime insurance and commodities. The world’s first modern financial market in history was born.
3 scientific breakthroughs in the 20th century have changed the way we see the world. While the Chaos Theory implies that one seemingly small and insignificant thing can create chain-reactions towards something big, Einstein’s Theory of Relativity shows that everything is relative against its comparison. And then there’s Theory of Quantum Mechanics, with one significant form of the theory called the Many-World interpretation. Many-World interpretation views reality as many-branched tree in which every possible outcome of every event exist and are realized in other parallel worlds. One practical implementation of this theory comes in the form of Alternate History, a genre of fiction filled with stories of “what ifs” in the history book.
19 October 1469, the day Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile got married, was the day that changed our present world. Despite looking like just another small event in history, their marriage sets some kind of chain reactions like the butterfly who flap its wings in Brazil created chain reactions that could eventually cause a tornado in Texas.
Such is the magnitude of this important day, that the Alternate History of this marriage would realize very different parallel worlds indeed. First of all if Ferdinand and Isabella did not get married the kingdom of Aragon and Castile would not be united, then they would not invade the Islamic kingdom of Granada, and hence Spain would not be united. Nor would Spain exist if Isabella’s brother did not die, or king Henry IV did not discover that his daughter Joanna wasn’t his child.
If Ferdinand did not marry Isabella, he would not had the chance to persuade Isabella to finally accepts Columbus’ expedition plan. Thus the Americas might not even been found by the Europeans, the kingdoms of Maya Inca Aztec and others would probably still exist, the mass exodus of people from around the world to the New World would not happen, thus the great heroic story of Simon Bolivar in 19th century Latin America would not occur, and neither would the declaration of independence of the United States of America on 4 July 1776 from colonial Britain.
If the US did not exist, current global politics and economics would be very, very different indeed. No Bretton Woods conference, no Washington Consensus, no Latin American lost decade, no CIA-backed dictators scattered across the globe. If the US did not exist, there will be no Cold War so countries such as North and South Korea, among others, would not be separated. If the US did not exist, there will be no oil politics in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East hence no Al-Qa’eda to begin with, and no New Great Game in the Caspian Sea thus Central Asian countries would be very different indeed.
Perhaps more directly significant for most of us, if the US didn’t exist our technology and our lifestyle would be very different too. Light bulbs would not be invented, no telephone, no computers and internet, no aeroplanes, not even Hollywood entertainment, its music industry and other brand associations that define global consumerism.
While internal changes could alter the course of history dramatically, external factors could also provide inter-connected influences. If Genghis Khan did not unite the Mongol and Turk tribes at the very beginning, the Mongol Empire would not exist, and Pax Mongolica would not happen. If the Turks did not make a westwards conquest towards modern-day Turkey, Constantinople would not fall and Columbus’ alternative westward journey to the Indies would be unthinkable, hence no gold rush would occur from the Americas to Europe.
If Martin Luther did not declare the 95 theses, or if the Roman Catholic church did not do the things Martin Luther resented, Protestantism would not be born, the spread of Calvinism would not occur to the Netherlands, and the religious purification act by Charles and Philips would not happen, hence the Dutch Revolution would not get sparked.
If Isabella did not marry Ferdinand, their grandson Charles would not be born, and so the Spanish Empire would not automatically merged with the Habsburg Empire and the Holy Roman Empire, the Spanish would not got into economic problems that was caused by Charles’ greed and mismanagement, and the Netherlands would not be imposed with such heavy taxation. If Charles did not born, Philip would not be born either, and the Philippines would have a different name, Philip would not attack the Protestant Netherlands, would not seize Antwerp, and the people of Antwerp would not move to Amsterdam, hence the first modern financial market might not exist.
Indeed, we live in a very inter-connected world, where 1 secret marriage in the 15th century can set such chain reactions that lead to these many events in history, and also lead to the weird coincidences that set the paths toward my very existence in this world.
When the first modern financial market was born in Amsterdam, its first ever listed joint-stock company was the Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie in Dutch, or in short VOC). As the first ever multi-national company in the world, VOC was listed in the exchange to seek funding to invade and manage a large South East Asian archipelago which later got united to fight back the colonial rulers and became my country Indonesia.
Among many other things that they did in their 350-years-or-so of occupation in Indonesia, the Dutch ruler cultivated huge area of rubber forests in Sumatra. In 1908 Henry Ford revolutionized the US automotive industry by introducing the Model-T cars, and subsequently triggered the booming demand of rubber raw material for making the tires. At that time Brazil, as the leading rubber producer in the world, was suffering from a long drought, hence the focus of rubber supply switched from Brazil to Malaya and Sumatra. High on demand, the rubber forest in Sumatra needed to maintain the quality of the materials that they exported, and they hired rubber specialists to do so. One of the rubber specialists that they hire was my British great grandfather.
Indeed, without all of the chain-reactions that created these many events in history, without all of these events that led to the creation of the first modern financial market in Amsterdam, and without the subsequent funding of VOC to invade and govern Indonesia; Sumatra would not be one of the rubber suppliers for US automotive industry, my great grandfather would not come to Indonesia, thus he would not met my Indonesian great grandmother and ultimately, more likely than not, with one smallest random change along this historical chain, I would never have existed in the first place to write this article.
This is Chaos Theory.
“Those who manipulate the unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.
We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society.
In almost every act of our lives whether in the sphere of politics or business in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses.
It is they who pull the wires that control the public mind.”