Mike Taylor: Another financial crisis is coming… but when and where? – NZ Herald

The next crisis is lurking just below the surface and it might not take much to set it off.
As humans we have managed to solve just about every problem thrown our way, like communication, transportation, human rights, famine, plagues, and global wars.
But we are yet to solve the economic cycle.
We remain in an environment of boom and bust, misallocated capital, unintended consequences and are left always with the failings of capitalism.

NZ Herald

FEAR. Trump in the White House – Bob Woodward.

“Walking along the edge of the cliff perpetually.” Rob Porter, White House staff secretary.

It is a nervous breakdown of the executive power of the most powerful country in the world.

“Real power is, I don’t even want to use the word, fear.” Presidential candidate Donald J. Trump in an interview with Bob Woodward and Robert Costa on March 31, 2016.

In Bannon’s evaluation, Trump was Archie Bunker, but a really focused Archie Bunker.

Interviews for this book were conducted under the journalist ground rule of “deep background.” This means that all the information could be used but I would not say who provided it. The book is drawn from hundreds of hours of interviews with firsthand participants and witnesses to these events. Nearly all allowed me to tape-record our interviews so the story could be told with more precision. When I have attributed exact quotations, thoughts or conclusions to the participants, that information comes from the person, a colleague with direct knowledge, or from meeting notes, personal diaries, files and government or personal documents.

President Trump declined to be interviewed for this book.

In early September 2017, in the eighth month of the Trump presidency, Gary Cohn, the former president of Goldman Sachs and the president’s top economic adviser in the White House, moved cautiously toward the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office.

In his 27 years at Goldman, Cohn, 6 foot 3, bald, brash and full of self-confidence, had made billions for his clients and hundreds of millions for himself. He had granted himself walk in privileges to Trump’s Oval Office, and the president had accepted that arrangement.

On the desk was a one-page draft letter from the president addressed to the president of South Korea, terminating the United States-Korea Free Trade Agreement, known as KORUS.

Cohn was appalled. For months Trump had threatened to withdraw from the agreement, one of the foundations of an economic relationship, a military alliance and, most important, top secret intelligence operations and capabilities.

Under a treaty dating back to the 1950s, the United States stationed 28,500 US. troops in the South and operated the most highly classified and sensitive Special Access Programs (SAP), which provided sophisticated Top Secret, codeword intelligence and military capabilities. North Korean ICBM missiles now had the capability to carry a nuclear weapon, perhaps to the American homeland. A missile from North Korea would take 38 minutes to reach Los Angeles.

These programs enabled the United States to detect an ICBM launch in North Korea within seven seconds. The equivalent capability in Alaska took 15 minutes, an astonishing time differential.

The ability to detect a launch in seven seconds would give the United States military the time to shoot down a North Korean missile. It is perhaps the most important and most secret operation in the United States government. The American presence in South Korea represents the essence of national security.

Withdrawal from the KORUS trade agreement, which South Korea deemed essential to its economy, could lead to an unraveling of the entire relationship. Cohn could not believe that President Trump would risk losing vital intelligence assets crucial to US. national security.

This all stemmed from Trump’s fury that the United States had an $18 billion annual trade deficit with South Korea and was spending $3.5 billion a year to keep U.S. troops there.

Despite almost daily reports of chaos and discord in the White House, the public did not know how bad the internal situation actually was. Trump was always shifting, rarely fixed, erratic. He would get in a bad mood, something large or small would infuriate him, and he would say about the KORUS trade agreement, “We’re withdrawing today.”

But now there was the letter, dated September 5, 2017, a potential trigger to a national security catastrophe. Cohn was worried Trump would sign the letter if he saw it.

Cohn removed the letter draft from the Resolute Desk. He placed it in a blue folder marked “KEEP.”

“I stole it off his desk,” he later told an associate. “I wouldn’t let him see it. He’s never going to see that document. Got to protect the country.”

In the anarchy and disorder of the White House, and Trump’s mind, the president never noticed the missing letter.

Ordinarily Rob Porter, the staff secretary and organizer of presidential paperwork, would have been responsible for producing letters like this to the South Korean president. But this time, alarmingly, the letter draft had come to Trump through an unknown channel. Staff secretary is one of the low-profile but critical roles in any White House. For months, Porter had been briefing Trump on decision memos and other presidential documents, including the most sensitive national security authorizations for military and covert CIA activities.

Porter, 6-foot-4, rail-thin, 40 years old and raised a Mormon, was one of the gray men: an organization man with little flash who had attended Harvard and Harvard Law School and been a Rhodes Scholar.

Porter later discovered there were multiple copies of the draft letter, and either Cohn or he made sure none remained on the president’s desk.

Cohn and Porter worked together to derail what they believed were Trump’s most impulsive and dangerous orders. That document and others like it just disappeared. When Trump had a draft on his desk to proofread, Cohn at times would just yank it, and the president would forget about it. But if it was on his desk, he’d sign it. “It’s not what we did for the country,” Cohn said privately. “It’s what we saved him from doing.”

It was no less than an administrative coup d’e’tat, an undermining of the will of the president of the United States and his constitutional authority.

In addition to coordinating policy decisions and schedules and running the papenwork for the president, Porter told an associate, “A third of my job was trying to react to some of the really dangerous ideas that he had and try to give him reasons to believe that maybe they weren’t such good ideas.”

Another strategy was to delay, procrastinate, cite legal restrictions. Lawyer Porter said, “But slow-walking things or not taking things up to him, or telling him rightly, not just as an excuse, but this needs to be vetted, or we need to do more process on this, or we don’t have legal counsel clearance, that happened 10 times more frequently than taking papers from his desk. It felt like we were walking along the edge of the cliff perpetually.”

There were days or weeks when the operation seemed under control and they were a couple of steps back from the edge. “Other times, we would fall over the edge, and an action would be taken. It was like you were always walking right there on the edge.”

Although Trump never mentioned the missing September 5 letter, he did not forget what he wanted to do about the trade agreement. “There were several different iterations of that letter,” Porter told an associate.

Later in an Oval Office meeting, the South Korean agreement was being heatedly debated. “I don’t care,” Trump said. “I’m tired of these arguments! I don’t want to hear about it anymore. We’re getting out of KORUS.” He started to dictate a new letter he wanted to send.

Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, took Trump’s words seriously. Jared, 36, was a senior White House adviser and had a self-possessed, almost aristocratic bearing. He had been married to Trump’s daughter Ivanka since 2009.

Because he was sitting closest to the president, Jared started writing down what Trump was saying, taking dictation.

Finish the letter and get it to me so I can sign it, Trump ordered him.

Jared was in the process of turning the president’s dictation into a new letter when Porter heard about it.

“Send me the draft,” he told him. “If we’re going to do this, we cannot do it on the back of a napkin. We have to write it up in a way that isn’t going to embarrass us.”

Kushner sent down a paper copy of his draft. it was not of much use. Porter and Cohn had something typed up to demonstrate they were doing what the president had asked. Trump was expecting an immediate response. They wouldn’t walk in empty-handed. The draft was part of the subterfuge.

At a formal meeting, the opponents of leaving KORUS raised all kinds of arguments, the United States had never withdrawn from a free trade agreement before; there were legal issues, geopolitical issues, vital national security and intelligence issues; the letter wasn’t ready. They smothered the president with facts and logic.

“Well, let’s keep working on the letter,” Trump said. “I want to see the next draft.”

Cohn and Porter did not prepare a next draft. So there was nothing to show the president. The issue, for the moment, disappeared in the haze of presidential decision making. Trump got busy with other things.

But the KORUS issue would not go away. Cohn spoke to Secretary of Defense James Mattis, the retired Marine general who was perhaps the most influential voice among Trump’s cabinet and staff. General Mattis, a combat veteran, had served 40 years in the Corps. At 5-foot-9 with ramrod-straight posture, he had a permanently world-weary demeanor.

“We’re teetering on the edge,” Cohn told the secretary. “We may need some backup this time.”

Mattis tried to limit his visits to the White House and stick to military business as much as possible, but realizing the urgency he came to the Oval Office.

“Mr. President,” he said, “Kim Jong Un poses the most immediate threat to our national security. We need South Korea as an ally. It may not seem like trade is related to all this, but it’s central.”

American military and intelligence assets in South Korea are the backbone of our ability to defend ourselves from North Korea. Please don’t leave the deal.

Why is the US. paying $1 billion a year for an antiballistic missile system in South Korea? Trump asked. He was furious about the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system, and had threatened to pull it out of South Korea and move it to Portland, Oregon.

“We’re not doing this for South Korea,” Mattis said. “We’re helping South Korea because it helps us.”

The president seemed to acquiesce, but only for the moment.

In 2016, candidate Trump gave Bob Costa and myself his definition of the job of president: “More than anything else, it’s the security of our nation. . . . That’s number one, two and three. . . . The military, being strong, not letting bad things happen to our country from the outside. And I certainly think that’s always going to be my number-one part of that definition.”

The reality was that the United States in 2017 was tethered to the words and actions of an emotionally overwrought, mercurial and unpredictable leader. Members of his staff had joined to purposefully block some of what they believed were the president’s most dangerous impulses. It was a nervous breakdown of the executive power of the most powerful country in the world.

What follows is that story.

Chapter One

In August 2010, six years before taking over Donald Trump’s winning presidential campaign, Steve Bannon, then 57 and a producer of right-wing political films, answered his phone.

“What are you doing tomorrow?” asked David Bossie, a longtime House Republican investigator and conservative activist who had chased Bill and Hillary Clinton scandals for almost two decades.

“Dude,” Bannon replied, “I’m cutting these fucking films I’m making for you.”

The 2010 midterm congressional elections were coming up. It was the height of the Tea Party movement and Republicans were showing momentum.

“Dave, we’re literally dropping two more films. I’m editing. I’m working 20 hours a day” at Citizens United, the conservative political action committee Bossie headed, to churn out his anti-Clinton films.

“Can you come with me up to New York?”

“ For what?”

“To see Donald Trump,” Bossie said.

“What about?”

“He’s thinking of running for president,” Bossie said.

“Of what country?” Bannon asked.

No, seriously, Bossie insisted. He had been meeting and working with Trump for months. Trump had asked for a meeting.

“I don’t have time to jerk off, dude,” Bannon said. “Donald Trump’s never running for president. Forget it. Against Obama? Forget it. I don’t have time for fucking nonsense.”

“Don’t you want to meet him?”

“No, I have no interest in meeting him.” Trump had once given Bannon a 30-minute interview for his Sunday-aftemoon radio show, called The Victory Sessions, which Bannon had run out of Los Angeles and billed as “the thinking man’s radio show.”

“This guy’s not serious,” Bannon said.

“I think he is serious,” Bossie said. Trump was a TV celebrity and had a famous show, The Apprentice, that was number one on NBC some weeks. “There’s no downside for us to go and meet with him.”

Bannon finally agreed to go to New York City to Trump Tower.

They rode up to the 26th floor conference room. Trump greeted them warmly, and Bossie said he had a detailed presentation. It was a tutorial.

The first part, he said, lays out how to run in a Republican primary and win. The second part explains how to run for president of the United States against Barack Obama. He described standard polling strategies and discussed process and issues. Bossie was a traditional, limited-government conservative and had been caught by surprise by the Tea Party movement.

It was an important moment in American politics, Bossie said, and Tea Party populism was sweeping the country. The little guy was getting his voice. Populism was a grassroots movement to disrupt the political status quo in favor of everyday people.

“I’m a business guy,” Trump reminded them. “I’m not a professional ladder-climber in politics.”

“If you’re going to run for president,” Bossie said, “you have to know lots of little things and lots of big things.” The little things were filing deadlines, the state rules for primaries, minutiae. “You have to know the policy side, and how to win delegates.” But first, he said, “you need to understand the conservative movement.”

Trump nodded.

“You’ve got some problems on issues,” Bossie said.

“I don’t have any problems on issues,” Trump said. “What are you talking about?”

“First off, there’s never been a guy win a Republican primary that’s not pro-life,” Bossie said. “And unfortunately, you’re very pro-choice.”

“What does that mean?”

“You have a record of giving to the abortion guys, the pro-choice candidates. You’ve made statements. You’ve got to be pro-life, against abortion.”

“I’m against abortion,” Trump said. “I’m pro-life.”

“Well, you’ve got a track record.”

“That can be fixed,” Trump said. “You just tell me how to fix that. I’m-what do you call it? Pro-life. I’m pro-life, I’m telling you.”

Bannon was impressed with the Showmanship, and increasingly so as Trump talked. Trump was engaged and quick. He was in great physical shape. His presence was bigger than the man, and took over the room, a command presence. He had something. He was also like a guy in a bar talking to the TV. Street-smart, from Queens. In Bannon’s evaluation, Trump was Archie Bunker, but a really focused Archie Bunker.

“The second big thing,” Bossie said, “is your voting record.”

“What do you mean, my voting record?” “About how often you vote.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Well,” Bossie said, “this is a Republican primary.”

“I vote every time,” Trump said confidently. “I’ve voted every time since I was 18, 20 years old.”

“That’s actually not correct. You know there’s a public record of your vote.” Bossie, the congressional investigator, had a stack of records.

“They don’t know how I vote.”

“No, no, no, not how you vote. How often you vote.”

Bannon realized that Trump did not know the most rudimentary business of politics.

“I voted every time,” Trump insisted.

“Actually you’ve never voted in a primary except once in your entire life,” Bossie said, citing the record.

“That’s a fucking lie,” Trump said. “That’s a total lie. Every time I get to vote, I voted.”

“You only voted in one primary,” Bossie said. “It was like in 1988 or something, in the Republican primary.”

“You’re right,” Trump said, pivoting 180 degrees, not missing a beat. “That was for Rudy.” Giuliani ran for mayor in a primary in 1989. “Is that in there?”


“I’ll get over that,” Trump said.

“Maybe none of these things matter,” Bossie said, “but maybe they do. If you’re going to move forward, you have to be methodical.”

Bannon was up next. He turned to what was driving the Tea Party, which didn’t like the elites. Populism was for the common man, knowing the system is rigged. It was against crony capitalism and insider deals which were bleeding the workers.

“I love that. That’s what I am,” Trump said, “a popularist.” He mangled the word.

“No, no,” Bannon said. “It’s populist.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Trump insisted. “A popularist.”

Bannon gave up. At first he thought Trump did not understand the word. But perhaps Trump meant it in his own way, being popular with the people. Bannon knew popularist was an earlier British form of the word “populist” for the nonintellectual general public.

An hour into the meeting, Bossie said, “We have another big issue.”

“What’s that?” Trump asked, seeming a little more wary.

“Well,” he said, “80 percent of the donations that you’ve given have been to Democrats.” To Bossie that was Trump’s biggest political liability, though he didn’t say so.

“That’s bullshit!”

“There’s public records,” Bossie said.

“There’s records of that!” Trump said in utter astonishment.

“Every donation you’ve ever given.” Public disclosure of all political giving was standard.

“I’m always even,” Trump said. He divided his donations to candidates from both parties, he said.

“You actually give quite a bit. But it’s 80 percent Democratic. Chicago, Atlantic City . . .”

“I’ve got to do that,” Trump said. “All these fucking Democrats run all the cities. You’ve got to build hotels. You’ve got to grease them. Those are people who came to me.”

“Listen,” Bannon said, “here’s what Dave’s trying to say. Running as a Tea Party guy, the problem is that’s what they are complaining about. That it’s guys like you that have inside deals.”

“I’ll get over that,” Trump said. “It’s all rigged. It’s a rigged system. These guys have been shaking me down for years. I don’t want to give. They all walk in. If you don’t write a check . . .”

There was a pol in Queens, Trump said, “an old guy with a baseball bat. You go in there and you’ve got to give him something, normally in cash. If you don’t give him anything, nothing gets done. Nothing gets built. But if you take it in there and you leave him an envelope, it happens. That’s just the way it is. But I can fix that.”

Bossie said he had a roadmap. “It’s the conservative movement. Tea Party comes and goes. Populism comes and goes. The conservative movement has been a bedrock since Goldwater.”

Second, he said, I would recommend you run as if you are running for governor in three states, Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. They were the first three caucus or primary states. “Run and sound local, like you want to be their governor.” A lot of candidates made the huge mistake of trying to run in 27 states. “Run three governor’s races, and you’ll have a really good shot. Focus on three. Do well in three. And the others will come.”

“I can be the nominee,” Trump said. “I can beat these guys. I don’t care who they are. I got this. I can take care of these other things.”

Each position could be revisited, renegotiated.

“I’m pro-life,” Trump said. “I’m going to start.”

“Here’s what you’re going to need to do,” Bossie said. “You’re going to need to write between $250,000 and $500,000 worth of individual checks to congressmen and senators. They’ll all come up here. Look them in the eye, shake their hand. You’re going to give them a check. Because we need some markers. You’ve got to do one-on-ones so these guys know. Because later on, that’ll be at least an entry point that you’re building relationships.”

Bossie continued, “Saying, this check is for you. For $2,400”, the maximum amount. “It’s got to be individual checks, hard money, to their campaign so they know it’s coming from you personally. Republicans now know that you’re going to be serious about this.”

All the money, Bossie said, was central to the art of presidential politics. “Later that’s going to pay huge dividends.” Give to Republican candidates in a handful of battleground states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Florida.

In addition, Bossie said, “You’re going to have to do a policy book. You ought to do a book about what you think about America and these policies.”

Bannon gave an extended brief on China and its successful efforts to take jobs and money from the United States. He was obsessed with the threat.

“What do you think?” Bossie later asked Bannon.

“I’m pretty impressed with the guy,” Bannon said. As for running for president, “Zero chance. First off, those two action items. The fucker will not write one check. He’s not a guy who writes checks. He signs the back of checks” when they come in as payments to him. “It was good you said that because he’ll never write a check.”

“What about the policy book?”

“He’ll never do a policy book. Give me a fucking break. First off, nobody will buy it. It was a waste of time except for the fact that it was insanely entertaining.”

Bossie said he was trying to prepare Trump if he ever did decide to run. Trump had a unique asset: He was totally removed from the political process.

As they walked on, Bossie found himself going through a mental exercise, one that six years later most Americans would go through. He’ll never run. He’ll never file. He’ll never announce. He’ll never file his financial disclosure statement. Right? He’ll never do any of those things. He’ll never win.

“You think he’s going to run?” Bossie finally asked Bannon.

“Not a chance. Zero chance,” Bannon repeated.

“Less than zero. Look at the fucking life he’s got, dude. Come on. He’s not going to do this. Get his face ripped off.”

Chapter Two

Six Years Later

It is almost certain that if events had not unfolded in the following unlikely, haphazard, careless way, the world would be vastly different today. Donald Trump accepted the Republican nomination on July 21, 2016, and his quest for the presidency took a significant turn early the morning of Saturday, August 13, 2016.

Steve Bannon, now the chief of the right-wing Breitbart News operation, sat on a bench in Bryant Park in New York City and huddled with his newspapers, his Saturday ritual. He first thumbed through the Financial Times and then moved to The New York Times.

“The Failing Inside Mission to Tame Trump’s Tongue,” read the headline on the Times front page. The presidential election was three months away.

“Oh, my God,” Bannon thought.

The first act of the Bannon drama is his appearance, the old military field jacket over multiple tennis polo shirts. The second act is his demeanor, aggressive, certain and loud.

The reporters of the Times story said they had 20 Republican unnamed sources close to Trump or in communication with his campaign. The article painted Trump as bewildered, exhausted, sullen, gaffe-prone and in trouble with donors. He was in precarious condition in Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and North Carolina, battleground states that would decide the election. It was an ugly portrait, and Bannon knew it was all true. He calculated that Trump could lose to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton by perhaps as many as 20 points, certainly double digits.

Trump was a media spectacle for sure, but he still had no operation beyond what the Republican National Committee had supplied. Bannon knew the Trump campaign was a few people in a room, a speechwriter, and an advance team of about six people that scheduled rallies in the cheapest venues, often old, washed-out sports or hockey arenas around the country.

Despite that, Trump had won the Republican nomination over 16 others and was a big, profane, subversive presence, out front seizing the nation’s attention.

Bannon, now 63 years old and a Harvard Business School graduate with fervently nationalistic, America first views, called Rebekah Mercer.

Mercer and her family were one of the biggest and most controversial sources of campaign money in the Republican Party and money was the engine of American politics, especially in the Republican Party. The Mercers were a bit on the fringe but their money bought them a place at the table. They also had an ownership stake in Breitbart.

“This is bad because we’re going to get blamed for this,” Bannon told Mercer. Breitbart had stood by Trump in his darker hours. “This is going to be the end of Breitbart.”

“Why don’t you step in?” Rebekah said.

“I’ve never run a campaign in my life, Bannon replied. Not even close. The idea was preposterous.

“This guy Manafort’s a disaster,” she said, referring to the Trump campaign manager, Paul Manafort. “Nobody’s running the campaign now. Trump listens to you. He’s always looking for adult supervision.”

“Look,” Bannon said, “I’ll do it in a second. But why would he do that?”

“He’s been an outsider the entire time,” she said, and mentioned the New York Times article. “This thing’s in panic mode.” In short, Trump might hire Bannon because he was desperate.

The Mercers contacted Trump, who was going to be at the East Hampton, Long Island, home of Woody Johnson, the New York Jets owner, for a fundraiser. Normally the Mercers wrote the checks and said they didn’t even need to see the candidate. This time they wanted 10 minutes with Trump.

In a small sunroom, Rebekah, a tall redhead, let loose. Her father, Bob Mercer, a high-IQ mathematician, barely talked. He was one of the brains behind a fabulously successful hedge fund, Renaissance Technologies, that managed $50 billion.

“Manafort has got to go,” she told Trump. She said it was chaos.

“What do you recommend?” Trump asked.

“Steve Bannon will come in,” she said.

“He’ll never do it.”

He “definitely” would, she answered.

Bannon reached Trump that night. “This thing is embarrassing in the paper,” Bannon said, referring to the New York Times piece. “You’re better than this. We can win this. We should be winning this. It’s Hillary Clinton, for God’s sake.”

Trump went off on Manafort. “He’s a stiff,” he said. He can’t do TV effectively.

“Let’s meet tomorrow and put this thing together. We can do this,” Bannon gushed. “But let’s keep it totally quiet.”

Trump agreed to meet the next morning, Sunday.

Another worried political figure that day was Reince Priebus, the 44-year-old chairman of the Republican National Committee, and a Wisconsin lawyer. Priebus had been Mr. Outreach and Mr. Networker in his five years as chairman. His cheery demeanor masked an empire builder. Priebus made the party’s finance decisions, hired the field staff of 6,500 paid workers, appeared on TV regularly and had his own communications operation. He was in an awkward position.

Privately, Priebus viewed the month of August as a catastrophe. “A constant heat lamp that wouldn’t go away.” And the person responsible was candidate Trump.

Priebus had tried to navigate the campaign from the beginning. When Trump called Mexicans “rapists” in the speech announcing his candidacy on June 16, 2015, Priebus called him and said, “You can’t talk like that. We’ve been working really hard to win over Hispanics.”

Trump would not tone it down, and he attacked anyone who attacked him. No national party chairman had ever dealt with a headache quite like Trump.

Senator Mitch McConnell, the wily Republican majority leader, had called Priebus confidentially. His message: Forget Trump, divert Republican money to us, the Senate candidates, and shut off the money faucet to Donald Trump.

But Priebus wanted to preserve a relationship with Trump, and he decided to plant himself firmly in the middle between Trump and McConnell. It was tactically sound, he thought. Survival for the party and him. He had told Trump, “I’m with you 100 percent. I love you. I’m going to keep working for you. But I have to protect the party. I have a responsibility that’s different than just you.”

Priebus had agreed to come out and campaign with Trump and introduce him at rallies. He saw it as extending a hand to a drowning man.

The Times article about the failure to tame Trump was a jolt. “Holy shit!” Priebus thought. This is really bad stuff.” The campaign was falling apart. “It wasn’t a campaign,” he had concluded. “They were a joke.”

There was so much talking in the Times article that Priebus realized the 20 sources were either trying to sabotage the campaign or, as usual, make themselves look good.

Perilous times, maybe the worst, for Trump and the party, Priebus thought. There was only one path forward: escalation on all fronts. Maximize aggression to conceal vital weakness.

That Sunday morning, Steve Bannon arrived at Trump Tower in Manhattan and told security he had a meeting with Mr. Trump.

“That’s terrific,” the security guard said. “He’s never here on weekends.”

Bannon phoned Trump.

“Hey,” the candidate explained, “I’m in Bedminster”, where Trump National Golf Club was located. “Since you’re not here, I’ll go play golf. Come out here, we’re having lunch. Be here, like, one o’clock.”

He proceeded to give detailed instructions for the drive 40 miles west of New York City.

“1’“ find it,” Bannon said.

No, turn right on Rattlesnake Bridge Road, then take a right for about a mile.

“I’ll find it. It’s your Trump National.”

No, Trump persisted, you’ve got to understand. Trump provided full driving instructions with more detail than Bannon had ever heard him give on anything.

Bannon had a driver take him to Bedminster to arrive at noon to make sure he was on time. Inside the clubhouse, he was shown to a table set for five.

You’re early, said someone from the staff. The others won’t be here until 1 pm.

The others? Bannon asked.

Roger Ailes, Governor Chris Christie and “the Mayor”, Rudy Giuliani-also were attending.

Bannon was pissed. He was not there to audition in front of anyone. He and Trump had agreed, made a deal which should not be reviewable.

Ailes, the founder and head of Fox News and longtime Republican political operative, going back to Richard Nixon, came in first. He had been a mentor to Bannon.

“What the fuck?” Ailes said, and launched into a criticism of the campaign.

“How bad are the numbers?” Bannon asked.

“This is going to be a blowout.”

“I talked to Trump last night,” Bannon said. “The Mercers talked to him. I’m supposed to be coming in and taking over the campaign, but don’t tell the other two guys that.”

“What the fuck?” Ailes said again. “You don’t know anything about campaigns.” It was out of the question.

“I know, but anybody could get more organized than this thing is.”

Though Bannon had known Ailes for years, he would not appear on Ailes’s Fox News network.

Bannon once said, “I’ve never been on Fox because I didn’t want to be beholden to him. . . . Never be beholden to Roger or he fucking owns you.”

This contrasted sharply with his relationship to Trump, who, in his view, was a supplicant. Trump had appeared on a series of Breitbart News Daily radio interviews with Bannon on SiriusXM between November 2015 and June 2016.

Ailes said they were there for their weekly debate prep. The first presidential debate against Hillary Clinton was a month and a half away, on September 26.

“Debate prep?” Bannon said. “You, Christie and Rudy?”

“This is the second one.”

“He’s actually prepping for the debates?” Bannon said, suddenly impressed.

“No, he comes and plays golf and we just talk about the campaign and stuff like that. But we’re trying to get him in the habit.”

Campaign manager Paul Manafort walked in.

Bannon, who regularly called himself “a fire-breathing populist,” was disgusted. Manafort was dressed in what could pass for yachting attire, with a kerchief. Live from Southampton!

Trump arrived and sat down. Hot dogs and hamburgers were laid out. The fantasy diet of an 11year-old kid, Bannon thought, as Trump wolfed down two hot dogs.

Citing the New York Times story about the failure to tame his tongue, Trump asked Manafort how such an article could appear. It was one of Trump’s paradoxes: He attacked the mainstream media with relish, especially the Times, but despite the full-takedown language, he considered the Times the paper of record and largely believed its stories.

“Paul, am I a baby?” Trump asked Manafort. “Is that what you are saying, I’m a baby? You’re terrible on TV. You’ve got no energy. You don’t represent the campaign. I’ve told you nicely. You’re never going on TV again.”

“Donald . . .,” Manafort tried to respond.

Bannon suspected this familiar, first-name, peer-to-peer talk irked Trump.

“One thing you’ve got to understand, Mr. Trump,” Bannon said, “the story had a lot of these unnamed sources, we don’t know the veracity.”

“No, I can tell,” Trump replied, directing his fire at Manafort. “They’re leakers.” He knew the quotes were true.

“A lot of this is not for attribution,” Bannon said. No one by name, all hiding. “The New York Times is, it’s all fucking lies. Come on, this is all bullshit,” Bannon continued his full-body, opposition-party pitch, though he knew the story was true.

Trump wasn’t buying it. The story was gospel, and the campaign was full of leakers. The assassination of Manafort continued for a while. Trump turned to a few war stories for half an hour. Manafort left.

“Stick around,” Trump told Bannon. “This thing’s so terrible. It’s so out of control. This guy’s such a loser. He’s really not running the campaign. I only brought him in to get me through the convention.”

“Don’t worry about any of these numbers,” Bannon said. “Don’t worry about the 12 to 16 points, whatever the poll is. Don’t worry about the battleground states. It’s very simple.” Two thirds of the country thinks we’re on the wrong track, and 75 percent of the country thinks we’re in decline, he argued. That set the stage for a change agent. Hillary was the past. It was that clear.

In a way, Bannon had been waiting all his adult life for this moment. “Here’s the difference,” he explained. “We’re just going to compare and contrast Clinton.

Here’s the thing you’ve got to remember,” he said, and recited one of his mantras: “The elites in the country are comfortable with managing the decline. Right?”

Trump nodded agreement.

“And the working people in the country are not. They do want to make America great again. We’re going to simplify this campaign. She is the tribune of a corrupt and incompetent status quo of elites who are comfortable managing the decline. You’re the tribune of the forgotten man who wants to make America great again. And we’re just going to do it in a couple of themes.

“Number one,” Bannon went on, “we’re going to stop mass illegal immigration and start to limit legal immigration to get our sovereignty back. Number two, you are going to bring manufacturing jobs back to the country. And number three, we’re going to get out of these pointless foreign wars.”

These weren’t new ideas for Trump. In an August 8 speech to the Detroit Economic Club a week before, he had sounded all these notes and hammered Clinton. “She is the candidate of the past. Ours is the campaign of the future.”

“Those are the three big themes that she can’t defend against,” Bannon said. “She’s part of the thing that opened the borders, she’s part of the thing that cut the bad trade deals and let the jobs go to China, and she’s the neocon. Right?”

Trump seemed to agree that Hillary was a neoconservative.

“She’s supported every war out there,” Bannon said. “We’re just going to hammer. That’s it. Just stick to that.”

Bannon added that Trump had another advantage. He spoke in a voice that did not sound political. This was what Barack Obama had in 2008 in the primary contest against Clinton, who spoke like the trained politician she was. Her tempo was overly practiced. Even when telling the truth, she sounded like she was lying to you.

Politicians like Hillary can’t talk naturally, Bannon said. It was a mechanical way of speaking, right out of the polling and focus groups, answering the questions in political speak. It was soothing, not jarring, not from the heart or from deep conviction, but from some highly paid consultant’s talking points, not angry.

Trump said okay, you become the Chief Executive Officer of the campaign.

“I don’t want some big brouhaha story about palace intrigue,” Bannon said. “Let’s keep Manafort in as chairman. He’ll have no authority. Let me manage that.”

They agreed that Kellyanne Conway, a feisty, outspoken Republican pollster who was already helping the campaign, would be designated campaign manager.

“We’re going to put her on television every day as the female friendly face on the thing,” Bannon proposed. “Because Kellyanne is a warrior. And she’ll just take incoming. But people like her. And that’s what we need is likability.”

In a moment of self-awareness, he added, “I’ll never be on TV.”

Conway had never run a campaign either. That made three of them, the shiny neophyte candidate, the campaign CEO and the campaign manager.

Kellyanne Conway was supervising the filming of some campaign ads that month.

“Am I paying for these people?” Trump asked her.

He complained about the camera setup. The equipment seemed old and he didn’t like the lighting.

The shoot wasn’t high-definition (HD). He groused about the camera crew. “Tell them I’m not going to pay.” It was a standard line.

Later he said, “I want everyone to leave except Kellyanne.”

“Everybody tells me that I’m a much better candidate than Hillary Clinton,” he said, half-asking for her evaluation.

“Well, yes, sir. No poll necessary.” But they could do some things different. “You’re running against the most joyless candidate in presidential history. And it’s starting to feel like we are that way as well.”

“No we’re not.”

“It just feels that way. I used to watch you during the primaries, and you seemed much happier.”

“I miss the days when it was just a few of us flying around doing the rallies, meeting the voters,” Trump said.

“Those days are gone,” she acknowledged. “But in fairness to you, we should be able to replicate them to a general election strategy and process that allows you to maximize those skills and the enjoyment.”

She took a stab at candor. “You know you’re losing? But you don’t have to. I’ve looked at the polls.” CNN that day had him down five to 10 points. “There’s a path back?

“What is it?”

She beiieved that he had done something without realizing it. “This fiction of electability that was sucking the lifeblood out of the Republican Party,” that somehow he could not win and was not electable.

The voters were disillusioned with Republican presidential nominees. These arguments went, “You have to get behind Mitt Romney. He’s the only one who can win. You have to support John McCain. He can win. Jeb can win. Marco can win. This one,” Trump, you, “can’t win. The people decided. I will not be fooled again,” and he had won the Republican nomination.

“You get these massive crowds where you have not erected a traditional political campaign. You have built a movement. And people feel like they’re part of it. They paid no admission. I can tell you what I see in the polling. We have two major impediments.” She said they should never do national polling, ever. “That is the foolishness of the media,” which did national polls. Winning obviously was all about the electoral college, getting the 270 electoral votes. They needed to target the right states, the roughly eight battleground states.

“People want specifics,” Conway said. It had been great when Trump released his 10-point Veterans Administration reform plan in July, or a planned fivepoint tax reform plan. “People want those kinds of specifics, but they need them repeated again and again.

“The second vulnerability I see is people want to make sure you can actually make good on your promises. Because if you can’t deliver, if the businessman can’t execute and deliver, you’re just another politician. And that’s who you’re not.”

It was a sales pitch, a path forward that Trump seemed to embrace.

“Do you think you can run this thing?” he asked.



FEAR. Trump in the White House

by Bob Woodward

get it at Amazon.com

A new Authoritarian Axis demands an international progressive front – Bernie Sanders.

Those of us who believe in democracy, who believe that a government must be accountable to its people, must understand the scope of the challenge if we are to effectively confront it.

There is a global struggle taking place of enormous consequence. Nothing less than the future of the planet economically, socially and environmentally is at stake.

At a time of massive wealth and income inequality, when the world’s top 1% now owns more wealth than the bottom 99%, we are seeing the rise of a new authoritarian axis.

While these regimes may differ in some respects, they share key attributes: hostility toward democratic norms, antagonism toward a free press, intolerance toward ethnic and religious minorities, and a belief that government should benefit their own selflsh flnancial interests. These leaders are also deeply connected to a network of multibillionaire oligarchs who see the world as their economic plaything.

Those of us who believe in democracy, who believe that a government must be accountable to its people, must understand the scope of this challenge if we are to effectively confront it.

It should be clear by now that Donald Trump and the rightwing movement that supports him is not a phenomenon unique to the United States. All around the world, in Europe, in Russia, in the Middle East, in Asia and elsewhere we are seeing movements led by demagogues who exploit people’s fears, prejudices and grievances to achieve and hold on to power.

This trend certainly did not begin with Trump, but there’s no question that authoritarian leaders around the world have drawn inspiration from the fact that the leader of the world’s oldest and most powerful democracy seems to delight in shattering democratic norms.

Three years ago, who would have imagined that the United States would stay neutral between Canada, our democratic neighbor and second largest trading partner, and Saudi Arabia, a monarchic, client state that treats women as third-class citizens? It’s also hard to imagine that Israel’s Netanyahu government would have moved to pass the recent “nation state law”, which essentially codifies the second-class status of Israel’s non-Jewish citizens, if Benjamin Netanyahu didn’t know Trump would have his back.

All of this is not exactly a secret. As the US continues to grow further and further apart from our longtime democratic allies, the US ambassador to Germany recently made clear the Trump administration’s support for rightwing extremist parties across Europe.

In addition to Trump’s hostility toward democratic institutions we have a billionaire president who, in an unprecedented way, has blatantly embeded his own economic interests and those his cronies into the policies of government.

Other authoritarian states are much farther along this kleptocratic process. In Russia, it is impossible to tell where the decisions of government end and the interests of Vladimir Putin and his Circle of oligarchs begin. They operate as one unit. Similarly, in Saudi Arabia, there is no debate about separation because the natural resources of the state, valued at trillions of dollars, belong to the Saudi royal family. In Hungary, far-right authoritarian leader Viktor Orban is openly allied with Putin in Russia. In China, an inner circle led by Xi Jinping has steadily consolidated power, clamping down on domestic political freedom while it aggressively promotes a version of authoritarian capitalism abroad.

We must understand that these authoritarians are part of a common front. They are in close contact with each other, share tactics and, as in the case of European and American rightwing movements, even share some of the same funders. The Mercer family, for example, supporters of the infamous Cambridge Analytica, have been key backers of Trump and of Breitbart News, which operates in Europe, the United States and Israel to advance the same anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim agenda. Republican megadonor Sheldon Adelson gives generously to rightwing causes in both the United States and Israel, promoting a shared agenda of intolerance and illiberalism in both countries.

The truth is, however, that to effectively oppose rightwing authoritarianism, we cannot simply go back to the failed status quo of the last several decades. Today in the United States, and in many other parts of the world, people are working longer hours for stagnating wages, and worry that their children will have a lower standard of living than they do.

Our job is to fight for a future in which new technology and innovation works to benefit all people, not just a few. It is not acceptable that the top 1% 0f the world’s population owns half the planet’s wealth, while the bottom 70% of the working age population accounts for just 2.7% of global wealth.

Together governments of the world must come together to end the absurdity of the rich and multinational corporations stashing over $21tn in offshore bank accounts to avoid paying their fair share of taxes and then demanding that their respective governments impose an austerity agenda on their working families.

It is not acceptable that the fossil fuel industry continues to make huge profits while their carbon emissions destroy the planet for our children and grandchildren.

It is not acceptable that a handful of multinational media giants, owned by a small number of billionaires, largely control the flow of information on the planet.

It is not acceptable that trade policies that benefit large multinational corporations and encourage a race to the bottom hurt working people throughout the world as they are written out of public view.

It is not acceptable that, with the cold war long behind us, countries around the world spend over $1tn a year on weapons of destruction, while millions of Children die of easily treatable diseases.

In order to effectively combat the rise of the international authoritarian axis, we need an international progressive movement that mobilizes behind a vision of shared prosperity, security and dignity for all people, and that addresses the massive global inequality that exists, not only in wealth but in political power.

Such a movement must be willing to think creatively and boldly about the world that we would like to see. While the authoritarian axis is committed to tearing down a post second world war global order that they see as limiting their access to power and wealth, it is not enough for us to simply defend that order as it exists now.

We must look honestly at how that order has failed to deliver on many of its promises, and how authoritarians have adeptly exploited those failures in order to build support for their agenda. We must take the opportunity to reconceptualize a genuinely progressive global order based on human solidarity, an order that recognizes that every person on this planet shares a common humanity, that we all want our children to grow up healthy, to have a good education, have decent jobs, drink Clean water, breathe clean air and live in peace.

Our job is to reach out to those in every corner of the world who share these values, and who are fighting for a better world.

In a time of exploding wealth and technology, we have the potential to create a decent life for all people. Our job is to build on our common humanity and do everything that we can to oppose all of the forces, whether unaccountable government power or unaccountable corporate power, who try to divide us and set us against each other. We know that those forces work together across borders. We must do the same.

Bernie Sanders, US Senator, Vermont

Love As always, Mum – Mae West.

“There was never a moment when I believed Dad to be innocent.”

The true and terrible story of surviving a childhood with Fred and Rose West.

24 February 1994.

“To say that I was in shock doesn’t even begin to describe my state of mind. Despite a strange and deeply abusive upbringing, I’d known nothing of my dad’s and later, as I have come to accept, my mum’s murderous crimes.

Nothing can possibly prepare you for such an experience. I felt numb, as though it was all happening to someone else, and yet I knew it wasn’t. I knew this was my life and nothing would ever be the same again.”

25 Cromwell Street, Gloucester. Rose and Fred West.

Prologue: Stigma

HM PRISON DURHAM “I want you to feel that you can talk to me about anything. You must feel awful sometimes and I know you feel very isolated at times. I know I miss you so much sometimes that I feel angry. It must be really rotten for you when you need a family member to talk to or you need mum to sound off to . . . I love you and I want to do anything I can do to help you get over things and to be as happy as possible!!! Love as always, Mum”

It was January 1996. I was nearly nine months’ pregnant. All I knew for sure, having been told at my twenty-week scan, was that I was having a girl. Everything else was uncertain. I expect most women get nervous as the birth of their first child approaches. I certainly was. All kinds of worries enter your mind. Will the baby arrive on its due date, or be early or late? How painful will it be? Will there be complications? What will I feel when I see my baby for the first time? Will I feel love straight away or does that take time? And, as the years pass, will I be a good mum? Will my child love me? I imagine it’s a time when many women turn to their mothers for advice and support. Perhaps sometimes even asking them to be there at the birth.

But I knew that for me that was not going to be possible, because my mother was Rose West.

Only two months earlier, in November 1995, she’d been convicted of the murder of nine young women and a little girl at one of the most notorious criminal trials in history. One of those young women was my sister, Heather. My mother had been sentenced to life imprisonment and told by the judge that she should never be released.

In the eyes of many, she was the most evil woman that had ever lived.

After my mother’s conviction I decided to make a clean break from Gloucester, the city where I had grown up and where, at 25 Cromwell Street, the crimes of both my mother and father, Fred West, had come to light. I needed to start a new life for my baby and myself in a new town, far away from my own terrifying childhood memories and where I hoped the Fred and Rose West legacy would not follow and haunt us. For many reasons, which I’ll come to later, there wasn’t much time to plan or think through how or where to do this. But I knew I had to try. I ended up renting a three bedroomed house twenty-five miles away with my haIf-sister Tara and her toddler son, Nathan. Tara was nineteen and I was twenty three. We didn’t know anyone and couldn’t risk anyone finding out who we were, so we kept our heads down.

Tara and I could only depend on each other. When she went out I felt very anxious, the unfamiliar creaks from the pipes or sudden sounds from next door would make my heart race, and I’d have one eye trained on our front door the whole time waiting for her to come back through it. On the rare occasions when we went out together, just to a café for a cup of tea, I’d do my best to sit where I couldn’t be seen and yet always make sure I knew where the door was so I could get out in a hurry if we were recognised. Tara and I were totally alone in that town but at least it meant we had a chance of escaping the media attention.

As my due date drew near, the baby stopped moving as much as she had been and I became very worried. I had no clue if this was normal or not. It was one of the many things I might have asked Mum’s advice about if she had been there; after all, she’d had eight children of her own. But of course I couldn’t, and, although Tara had a baby, she was only a young mum with little experience. So I rang the hospital Cheltenham General and they told me to come in so they could monitor me.

The hospital was a grim, depressing place with a grey stone facade and huge windows which made it look like an asylum, but at least it was clean and the best thing about it was that it wasn’t Gloucester. I didn’t want my baby to be born with Gloucester on her birth certificate.

After a day or so of being monitored, the doctors said everything was fine and before long I went into labour naturally. Tara came in to be with me; growing up, us kids had to stick together as best we could to survive Dad’s advances and Mum’s rage, so having her there was a familiar comfort. I had also been with her when she gave birth to Nathan, so it was nice to have her support in return. But I was still frightened. Mum had always made childbirth sound so easy. She used to speak about it in such a matter-of-fact way, as if it was like shelling peas. She never mentioned pain or complications.

I remember the midwife who gave me my initial examination did nothing to make me feel better. ‘We’II not be taking you to the labour ward yet,’ she said dismissively, as if I had been wasting her time.

‘Why not?’ I asked.

‘You’re only two centimetres dilated. You need to be at least five before we take you down.’

Her manner was cold and unsympathetic, or perhaps because I was so on edge and for so many reasons it came across that way to me. Thank goodness I at least had Tara for support. We waited together as my labour continued and eventually I got to five centimetres and the midwife agreed we could go down to the labour ward. The pain was unbearable, but then they gave me an epidural and after that I just lay there, in the tiny room, talking to Tara. Waiting. But after thirty hours of labour there was still no sign of the baby being born. I was so tired. I wondered how Mum could have done this eight times over. I worried I was doing something wrong. And when there were pauses in mine and Tara’s conversation, I found myself wishing Heather had been with me too.

Eventually the doctor and midwife said I was fully dilated and needed to start pushing. I did as I was told. I tried and tried until I thought I must be blue in the face and the blood vessels in my eyes were going to burst. Still there was no sign of my baby. Eventually they said I was going to have to have a Caesarean. I began to get really upset. I was fighting back tears. I told them I didn’t want that, I wanted to have a normal birth. I couldn’t tell them the reason that so much in my life had been abnormal, that I lacked confidence about becoming a mum and it felt so important that I could bring my baby into this world as most other babies arrive.

They didn’t seem to be paying attention in any case. A midwife gave me some tablets which she said I needed to take before having the Caesarean. But then a young doctor, seeing how upset I was, said they’d give it one more go using the Vento use, a kind of vacuum device that they put onto the head to help draw the baby out. I was given another top-up of the epidural and then they took part of the bed away. I could hear a machine start up and the doctor got to work, and then after all that pain and panic within seconds she was born.

Ruddy-faced, chubby-armed, beautiful and mine. They laid her on my stomach; she felt so small and yet so heavy at the same time.

I looked at her and thought, At last she’s here. My baby, to care for and love. Tara was crying. ‘She’s the most beautiful baby I’ve ever seen,’ she said. I was utterly exhausted and there were so many monitors beeping and tubes coming out of my arm, but it was worth it. She was here. My daughter, Amy.

One of the midwives weighed her. She was 7lb 60z, ten fingers, ten toes, completely healthy and normal except for her cone-shaped head caused by the ventouse, which they said would go down in a few days. l was cleaned up and we were both moved to a ward with other mums and newborns. It was mid-afternoon and Tara seemed almost as exhausted as I was. She’d been a tower of strength for me throughout. I told her to go home and get some rest.

My legs were still numb from the epidural and at some point in the night I tried to get out of bed but fell on the floor and hurt my back. It was just like me thinking I could carry on as normal with things instead of resting. I sat on the cold lino floor and looked around me at the unfamiliar surroundings: at the bright strip lighting out in the corridor and at the other beds with the sleeping mums in; girls like me with newborn babies but who weren’t like me at all. I sat back on the bed and, with Tara gone, emotions which I’d managed to hold back suddenly began to well up inside me; my throat and chest felt tight and for a second I thought I was going to cry.

Then I looked into the clear plastic cot next to me, Amy was asleep. She looked so tiny and vulnerable. I lay back down and just stared at her, watching her tiny chest rise and fall, and, gradually, because she seemed so content and settled, became calmer myself. I kept thinking, She’s mine, someone in my life to give love to and get love back from. It was something magical to hold onto. But, despite everything, I couldn’t stop myself from thinking, I wish Mum was here to see her. Eventually I fell asleep.

The following day was hard. All the other mums seemed to have lots of visitors with balloons, flowers and cards. I was so relieved when Tara came back to visit me. I felt really ill, sore and tired. I’d started to get fluid retention from the epidural, my legs had swollen and I couldn’t move very well, but I wanted to show the midwives that I could do whatever was necessary to look after Amy. Unlike now, when maternity wards discharge you as soon as they can, you weren’t allowed to leave before then. One of the things you had to be able to do was make up a bottle correctly.

‘Have you ever done this before?’ the midwife asked me.

‘Plenty of times,’ I told her.

‘But this is your first baby, isn’t it?’

‘I come from a big family. I had to do it for my younger brothers and sisters.’ I felt myself go red suddenly wondering if I’d given something away, if she’d start asking me questions about them.

But she didn’t notice. ‘Show me,’ she said.

She stood and watched as I made up a bottle of formula milk, before saying she was satisfied that I knew how to do it.

But because of the fluid retention they weren’t ready to discharge me, so I went back to the ward. Another midwife came to ask if I wanted a magazine to read while Amy was asleep. I was grateful and a few minutes later she returned with a copy of Cosmopolitan magazine. I began to browse through it: post-Christmas diets, hair tips and then to my horror I turned the page to see an article about women who kill. One of the women featured was my mum. I tried to tear my eyes away but I couldn’t: as I scanned the article I found myself reading about all the crimes my mum had been convicted of, her life with my dad, the discovery of the bodies of nine young women who had been sexually assaulted, dismembered and buried at the so-called ‘House of Horrors’, 25 Cromwell Street, where I’d grown up and my dad’s suicide a year before.

I felt sick. The realisation that I would never be able to truly escape what had happened began to close in on me, making me feel crushed and helpless. Then I started to wonder if the midwife had deliberately given me the magazine. Perhaps she’d realised who I was? It seemed perfectly plausible to me because although my maternity notes were in my new name, the staff might have access to my old GP’s records and have worked out that I was the daughter of Fred and Rosemary West. Had they given me the magazine as some kind of cruel joke?

I knew deep down that that was so unlikely, but I couldn’t completely shake off the suspicion. I kept trying to tell myself it was sheer coincidence, but I felt as if the staff were watching me. One of the midwives had told me to keep Amy lying flat because there was mucus on her chest. But when Tara came to visit that evening she wanted to have a quick cuddle with Amy. She picked Amy up out of the cot, but the midwife saw her and came over.

‘I told you to keep her lying down,’ she snapped, and snatched Amy from Tara.

‘I only wanted to hold her for a minute!’ said Tara, upset.

‘She’s my sister, please let her,’ I said.

The midwife was having none of it. ‘I don’t care who she is. You’re the mother, you should be doing what’s best for the baby!’

That midwife couldn’t have known how much saying a thing like that would affect me, but it was horrible and humiliating and threatened to destroy what little confidence I had in myself to be a good mum to Amy. The hospital had felt cold to me from the start but now it seemed as if everyone was against me. All I wanted to do was pick Amy up and run away out of there.

Eventually, on the Sunday, I was discharged. I wasn’t in a relationship with Amy’s dad by that point, but he drove all the way down from Essex to see her and brought a new baby seat for her so we could take her home.

So there I was, finally, in my new home with my new baby, hoping against hope I could make a new life for us, but afraid too that my old life would always keep following me, that I would never escape the stigma of being the daughter of Fred and Rose West. Even if I could escape it, even if I could succeed in blocking out the memory of Dad and keeping Mum out of sight, I knew there would always be something missing; a feeling that something was gone, an absence where Heather should have been.

And deep inside me was the echo of a question I will never be able to answer: why had I survived, why had I been the one lucky enough to have a beautiful child of my own when she hadn’t?

Chapter One

Into the Nightmare

It’s Wednesday and another letter from Mum has arrived. She wants to make things easier for us both, and has asked me to write to her with the things I need answers to most. I don’t know where to start. How much did you know? How much did you do? I want the truth but I don’t know where to begin, or even if I can trust that’s what she’ll give me. I feel completely alone, and she knows that . . .

HM PRISON DURHAM There must be a thousand things all rattling around inside your head so please remember my beautiful daughter. I’m HERE FOR YOU!!! Love, as always, Mum xxx

From the moment police officers arrived, on 24 February 1994, with a warrant to search our home for the body of my sister Heather, it was as if I’d walked into a nightmare. As my father Fred West was arrested, our house dismantled, our garden excavated and the remains of the victims began to be unearthed, my mum and I (and, to begin with, my brother Steve too) were placed in a series of ‘safe houses’ by the police.

To say that I was in shock doesn’t even begin to describe my state of mind. Despite a strange and deeply abusive upbringing, I’d known nothing of my dad’s and later, as I have come to accept, my mum’s murderous crimes. Nothing can possibly prepare you for such an experience. I felt numb, as though it was all happening to someone else, and yet I knew it wasn’t. I knew this was my life and nothing would ever be the same again.

We’d always been a very private family. “What happens in this house is our business and nobody else’s!’ Mum would say. We’d hardly ever have anyone but family round and it was up to Mum and Dad who came over the threshold. And yet suddenly our home was at the centre of the entire country’s attention. It was literally being taken apart, every shelf, cupboard and wardrobe searched and dismantled, every floorboard lifted, all our memories now evidence. And all the while I was trying desperately to cling onto some sense of reality, to get my head round at least some of what was happening.

In the following days, as the body of my sister Heather and those of the other young women were discovered, I had little trouble accepting that Dad was responsible for what had happened to them. It’s hard to get across the two sides of Dad’s character; he wasn’t violent like Mum was, he’d even defend us sometimes when she was going at us hell for leather. But he was a strange man, who we knew had dark and horrible interests, and all of us kids eventually became suspicious about what he might be capable of.

Not that it wasn‘t still the most terrible shock, serial murder, on that scale, carried out in that way, was beyond anything we could have imagined. Yet, as the details of the murders began to emerge, the sexual abuse of those young women before they’d died, the dismembering of their bodies, their burial inside and behind the house we’d played and grown up in, there was never a moment when I believed Dad to be innocent of them. Looking back, that was one thing at least which helped me to keep some sort of grip on my sanity.

With Mum it was different. Though the police treated her as a suspect from the beginning, it was some time before she was formally arrested and questioned. When that did eventually happen and even when she later stood trial there was no direct forensic or witness evidence against her. Mum’s guilt or innocence has always been more a matter of opinion and judgement of her character of what she was considered capable of doing rather than about concrete proof. From the very beginning she denied all knowledge of the murders and blamed everything on Dad, something she still does to this day.

‘That fucking man, Mae, the trouble he’s caused me over the years! And now this! Can you believe it?’

She’d always had a sharp tongue and she was relentless in her anger towards him. She never for a moment seemed to doubt that I believed her. She had this powerful emotional grip on me and she knew it. When I was young she often flew off the handle and would hit me and my brothers and sisters or take out her anger on whatever was around her. Yet as I grew older, reaching my later teens and twenties, she used to confide in me more and more: about her troubled childhood, her difficult family and her turbulent relationship with Dad. She seemed glad of my support and, looking back now, all these years later, I can see that she used that sense of obligation I felt towards her. She knew exactly how to make me feel sorry for her, and because of that she could always rely on me to take her side. So, when the murders came to light and she denied all knowledge of them, I believed her. Despite the turmoil I was in, it was something positive I could hold onto: that I was supporting my mother.

‘Thank God I’ve got you, Mae,’ she kept telling me in the safe house. ‘I don’t know how I’d be getting through any of this without you!’

I truly couldn’t imagine she was capable of such crimes. Especially the murder of Heather, her first baby, who I knew that, more than twenty years earlier, Mum’s parents had tried to force her to abort. She’d refused, absolutely determined to bring that baby into the world. Heather’s birth, she’d often told me, had given her such joy and fulfilment. So my loyalty to her never wavered, not even when the police finally came to arrest her on suspicion of murder. It didn‘t occur to me to doubt her. I never questioned that standing by her was the right thing to do. Steve had moved out of the safe house to live with his girlfriend by then so it was just Mum and me when they arrived to take her away. She was absolutely livid as they led her to the car, pushing, shoving and yelling at them: ‘You’ve no fucking right whatsoever to treat me like this! Fuck you, fuck the lot of you!’

I wished she hadn’t been so abusive towards them. I knew it wouldn’t help matters. But I also knew that it was her nature: she hated the police, hated everyone in authority in fact, and had done so since her childhood. Things had happened to her in her early life that gave her very good reason not to trust anyone in a position of power.

As the police bundled Mum into a car an officer told me I‘d have to leave the safe house. My heart thumped in my chest. ‘Leave? When?’

The officer looked around the only four walls I was safe within, ‘We can give you till the end of the day but that’s all.’

For a second I had no words. Then I managed to stutter, ‘Where am I supposed to go?’

‘Not back to Cromwell Street, that’s for sure. We’ve pretty well taken it to pieces. Besides it’s a crime scene.’

‘So what am I supposed to do?’

‘Sorry, love, can’t help you with that. I’m afraid you’re no longer our responsibility.’

I was stunned. I didn’t understand what they thought had changed that day for me to no longer need protection from the press. Afterwards, when they admitted to us that the house had been bugged, I realised it was because they had what they needed: I’d been interviewing Mum for them and now my job was over, I wasn’t needed any longer.

The police officer I spoke to walked out to the police car and I watched them drive Mum away. It’s strange now to think that was the last time I ever saw her in the ‘real’ world and not within a jail or a prison. But at that point in time, all I could focus on was that I had nowhere to go. The panic began to rise through me until I felt sick with it. I technically had a house in Gloucester, but I had rented it out a couple of years earlier when I moved back home after my younger siblings had been taken into care again to support Mum. Besides, I’d been told the press were now camped outside there, trying to find me.

Where else was there? I didn’t have friends or relatives that I thought would stand by me through something like this; it already felt as if I’d been tainted by what my parents had done. So I asked the police to make contact with Steve for me. He was staying with his girlfriend at her mother’s house and asked if she would put me up too. She agreed that I could stay that night, sleeping on the sofa, but it was made clear she didn’t want me there longer than that.

The following day, I sat on a patch of grass outside the house with Steve, trying to work out what to do. I’d had to quit my job immediately after Dad’s arrest earlier that month because of moving into the safe house away from the world’s press, so I also had no income or money saved. I couldn’t think of a place that would let me hide from them and live my life at the same time. Then Steve told me that the people at the News of the World who, much to Mum’s anger, he’d signed a contract with to tell our story wanted the two of us to do a book. I was adamantly against it, but he said they couldn’t do it without me, that it was a chance for us to put our side of the story across and would protect us from other press attention; that I’d never be able to get a job now and this was the only way I was going to get any money to live. I was twenty-one and naive, so I said yes.

It was all beyond surreal. I moved into a place on my own, I was visiting Mum, giving her moral support, even doing her laundry, and still having regular visits from the police who must have believed I might give them accidentally or otherwise evidence which would help to convict her. For months on end I just lived from day to day.

Then, out of the blue, as the long wait for my parents’ trial continued, came the news that my dad had committed suicide while on remand. I can’t say I felt sorrow, but he was still my dad, he’d been such a huge part of my life. I was in total shock. Things seemed to be spinning more and more out of control and it seemed that life could not get any worse. I found myself literally praying that I would wake up and find it really all had been a dream. I felt totally paralysed.

For a time I felt that I would be stuck in that state of mind, unable to make sense of any of it, forever. The idea of ever having any kind of future, let alone one worth living, was unimaginable. But time passed and events moved on and I had to get through them as best I could, and hope eventually to make some kind of life for myself.

Over twenty years have now passed, and this book is an attempt to tell the story I couldn’t have told then, because of the emotional turmoil I was in and because there was so much I could not possibly understand, not least how what had happened would affect my entire future life.

At the heart of it all is my changing relationship with my mother. The hardest part for me and something that has taken me years to be able to admit to myself, let alone to anyone else has not been coming to terms with the reality that she didn’t love and protect any of us as children, especially when we were young and at our most vulnerable. I think | always knew that part deep down, even though I find myself clinging to the hope that I’m wrong even now. No. The hardest part of all has been accepting that, despite her countless denials, she did play a part in the crimes she was accused of.

People may wonder how it’s possible to understand any of what happened. The crimes my parents committed are almost beyond comprehension, and among the most terrible and infamous in history. Only the crimes of Ian Brady and Myra Hindley, and separately Peter Sutcliffe, the ‘Yorkshire Ripper’ and Harold Shipman, have been comparable. Journalists have filled countless column inches about them, writers have written books, criminologists and psychologists have studied them. The wider public understandably has remained both repelled and fascinated by them, struggling to make sense of them even with the advantage of looking at the story from the perspective of outsiders. Both myself and my brothers and sisters have had to wait a long time for a sense of perspective to arrive. From the day we were born, we were unknowingly caught up inside the story.

But my feeling is that only by looking at the story from the inside can any of it properly be understood. For us, Fred and Rose West were real people; 25 Cromwell Street, Gloucester, was our home, a real home not, as it has since become in the minds of many, a ‘House of Horrors’ as it was dubbed by the press. Although we all directly experienced terrible things at my parents’ hands from physical to emotional and sexual abuse none of us knew the worst they were capable of until the rest of the world found out.

What may be very hard for people to get their heads round is that, although nothing in our household was ever what other people might regard as ‘normal’, in many ways throughout my childhood we got on with our lives in the same way that other families do. We did ordinary things. We ate meals and watched TV together, celebrated birthdays and Christmas, and went on family holidays. Yes, there was abuse, misery, violence and distress, but it wasn’t constant and it certainly wasn’t the whole picture.

There was also laughter, tenderness and affection in the house. People may find that extraordinary, but it’s true. I don’t mean between my parents, although they did sometimes laugh and joke with one another and there were occasional flashes of what seemed like real affection towards us, their children. But the bonds between myself and my brothers and sisters were strong. We played and laughed, fell out and made up as siblings do in any normal family. Astonishing as it may seem, our family mattered deeply to us, as much as it does to any child and the focal point of our lives was our home.

Later on, after the remains of the victims were found and our house became the ‘House of Horrors’, it was obviously impossible for us to see the place in the same way. Yet even now for me, though 25 Cromwell Street was long ago demolished and I can’t detach it from the dreadful things that happened there, it remains, in my mind, a home. One with terrible memories and associations, but a home nonetheless. Being able to think and accept both those things at the same time is something that doesn’t seem logical, but that’s the honest truth.



Love As always, Mum

by Mae West

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Thinking, Fast And Slow – Daniel Kahneman.

This book presents my current understanding of judgment and decision making, which has been shaped by psychological discoveries of recent decades.

The idea that our minds are susceptible to systematic errors is now generally accepted. Our research on judgment had far more effect on social science than we thought possible when we were working on it.

We can be blind to the obvious, and we are also blind to our blindness.

Daniel Kahneman is a Senior Scholar at Princeton University, and Emeritus Professor of Public Affairs, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2002.


Every author, I suppose, has in mind a setting in which readers of his or her work could benefit from having read it. Mine is the proverbial office water-cooler, where opinions are shared and gossip is exchanged. I hope to enrich the vocabulary that people use when they talk about the judgments and choices of others, the company’s new policies, or a colleague’s investment decisions.

Why be concerned with gossip? Because it is much easier, as well as far more enjoyable, to identify and label the mistakes of others than to recognize our own. Questioning what we believe and want is difficult at the best of times, and especially difficult when we most need to do it, but we can benefit from the informed opinions of others. Many of us spontaneously anticipate how friends and colleagues will evaluate our choices; the quality and content of these anticipated judgments therefore matters. The expectation of intelligent gossip is a powerful motive for serious self-criticism, more powerful than New Year resolutions to improve one’s decision making at work and at home.

To be a good diagnostician, a physician needs to acquire a large set of labels for diseases, each of which binds an idea of the illness and its symptoms, possible antecedents and causes, possible developments and consequences, and possible interventions to cure or mitigate the illness. Learning medicine consists in part of learning the language of medicine. A deeper understanding of judgments and choices also requires a richer vocabulary than is available in everyday language.

The hope for informed gossip is that there are distinctive patterns in the errors people make. Systematic errors are known as biases, and they recur predictably in particular circumstances. When the handsome and confident speaker bounds onto the stage, for example, you can anticipate that the audience will judge his comments more favorably than he deserves. The availability of a diagnostic label for this bias, the halo effect, makes it easier to anticipate, recognize, and understand.

When you are asked what you are thinking about, you can normally answer. You believe you know what goes on in your mind, which often consists of one conscious thought leading in an orderly way to another. But that is not the only way the mind works, nor indeed is that the typical way. Most impressions and thoughts arise in your conscious experience without your knowing how they got there. You cannot trace how you came to the belief that there is a lamp on the desk in front of you, or how you detected a hint of irritation in your spouse’s voice on the telephone, or how you managed to avoid a threat on the road before you became consciously aware of it. The mental work that produces impressions, intuitions, and many decisions goes on in silence in our mind.

Much of the discussion in this book is about biases of intuition. However, the focus on error does not denigrate human intelligence, any more than the attention to diseases in medical texts denies good health. Most of us are healthy most of the time, and most of our judgments and actions are appropriate most of the time. As we navigate our lives, we normally allow ourselves to be guided by impressions and feelings, and the confidence we have in our intuitive beliefs and preferences is usually justified. But not always. We are often confident even when we are wrong, and an objective observer is more likely to detect our errors than we are.

So this is my aim for watercooler conversations: improve the ability to identify and understand errors of judgment and choice, in others and eventually in ourselves, by providing a richer and more precise language to discuss them. In at least some cases, an accurate diagnosis may suggest an intervention to limit the damage that bad judgments and choices often cause.


This book presents my current understanding of judgment and decision making, which has been shaped by psychological discoveries of recent decades. However,

I trace the central ideas to the lucky day in 1969 when I asked a colleague to speak as a guest to a seminar I was teaching in the Department of Psychology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Amos Tversky was considered a rising star in the field of decision research, indeed, in anything he did, so I knew we would have an interesting time. Many people who knew Amos thought he was the most intelligent person they had ever met. He was brilliant, voluble, and charismatic. He was also blessed with a perfect memory for jokes and an exceptional abiIity to use them to make a point. There was never a dull moment when Amos was around. He was then thirty-two; I was thirty-five.

Amos told the class about an ongoing program of research at the University of Michigan that sought to answer this question: Are people good intuitive statisticians? We already knew that people are good intuitive grammarians: at age four a child effortlessly conforms to the rules of grammar as she speaks, although she has no idea that such rules exist. Do people have a similar intuitive feel for the basic principles of statistics? Amos reported that the answer was a qualified yes. We had a lively debate in the seminar and ultimately concluded that a qualified no was a better answer.

Amos and I enjoyed the exchange and concluded that intuitive statistics was an interesting topic and that it would be fun to explore it together. That Friday we met for lunch at Café Rimon, the favorite hangout of bohemians and professors in Jerusalem, and planned a study of the statistical intuitions of sophisticated researchers. We had concluded in the seminar that our own intuitions were deficient. In spite of years of teaching and using statistics, we had not developed an intuitive sense of the reliability of statistical results observed in small samples. Our subjective judgments were biased: we were far too willing to believe research findings based on inadequate evidence and prone to collect too few observations in our own research. The goal of our study was to examine whether other researchers suffered from the same affliction.

We prepared a survey that included realistic scenarios of statistical issues that arise in research. Amos collected the responses of a group of expert participants in a meeting of the Society of Mathematical Psychology, including the authors of two statistical textbooks. As expected, we found that our expert colleagues, like us, greatly exaggerated the likelihood that the original result of an experiment would be successfully replicated even with a small sample. They also gave very poor advice to a fictitious graduate student about the number of observations she needed to collect. Even statisticians were not good intuitive statisticians.

While writing the article that reported these findings, Amos and I discovered that we enjoyed working together. Amos was always very funny, and in his presence I became funny as well, so we spent hours of solid work in continuous amusement. The pleasure we found in working together made us exceptionally patient; it is much easier to strive for perfection when you are never bored. Perhaps most important, we checked our critical weapons at the door. Both Amos and I were critical and argumentative, he even more than I, but during the years of our collaboration neither of us ever rejected out of hand anything the other said. Indeed, one of the great joys I found in the collaboration was that Amos frequently saw the point of my vague ideas much more clearly than I did. Amos was the more logical thinker, with an orientation to theory and an unfailing sense of direction. I was more intuitive and rooted in the psychology of perception, from which we borrowed many ideas. We were sufficiently similar to understand each other easily, and sufficiently different to surprise each other. We developed a routine in which we spent much of our working days together, often on long walks. For the next fourteen years our collaboration was the focus of our lives, and the work we did together during those years was the best either of us ever did.

We quickly adopted a practice that we maintained for many years. Our research was a conversation, in which we invented questions and jointly examined our intuitive answers. Each question was a small experiment, and we carried out many experiments in a single day. We were not seriously looking for the correct answer to the statistical questions we posed. Our aim was to identify and analyze the intuitive answer, the first one that came to mind, the one we were tempted to make even when we knew it to be wrong. We believed, correctly, as it happened, that any intuition that the two of us shared would be shared by many other people as well, and that it would be easy to demonstrate its effects on judgments.

We once discovered with great delight that we had identical silly ideas about the future professions of several toddlers we both knew. We could identify the argumentative three-year-old lawyer, the nerdy professor, the empathetic and mildly intrusive psychotherapist. Of course these predictions were absurd, but we still found them appealing. It was also clear that our intuitions were governed by the resemblance of each child to the cultural stereotype of a profession. The amusing exercise helped us develop a theory that was emerging in our minds at the time, about the role of resemblance in predictions. We went on to test and elaborate that theory in dozens of experiments, as in the following example.

As you consider the next question, please assume that Steve was selected at random from a representative sample:

An individual has been described by a neighbor as follows: “Steve is very shy and withdrawn, invariably helpful but with little interest in people or in the world of reality. A meek and tidy soul, he has a need for order and structure, and a passion for detail.” Is Steve more likely to be a librarian or a farmer?

The resemblance of Steve’s personality to that of a stereotypical librarian strikes everyone immediately, but equally relevant statistical considerations are almost always ignored. Did it occur to you that there are more than 20 male farmers for each male librarian in the United States? Because there are so many more farmers, it is almost certain that more “meek and tidy” souls will be found on tractors than at library information desks. However, we found that participants in our experiments ignored the relevant statistical facts and relied exclusively on resemblance. We proposed that they used resemblance as a simplifying heuristic (roughly, a rule of thumb) to make a difficult judgment. The reliance on the heuristic caused predictable biases (systematic errors) in their predictions.

On another occasion, Amos and I wondered about the rate of divorce among professors in our university. We noticed that the question triggered a search of memory for divorced professors we knew or knew about, and that we judged the size of categories by the ease with which instances came to mind. We called this reliance on the ease of memory search the availability heuristic. In one of our studies, we asked participants to answer a simple cuestion about words in a typical English text:

Consider the letter K . Is K more likely to appear as the first letter in a word OR as the third letter?

As any Scrabble player knows, it is much easier to come up with words that begin with a particular letter than to find words that have the same letter in the third position. This is true for every letter of the alphabet. We therefore expected respondents to exaggerate the frequency of letters appearing in the first position, even those letters (such as K, L, N, R, V) which in fact occur more frequently in the third position. Here again, the reliance on a heuristic produces a predictable bias in judgments. For example, I recently came to doubt my long-held impression that adultery is more common among politicians than among physicians or lawyers. I had even come up with explanations for that “fact,” including the aphrodisiac effect of power and the temptations of life away from home. I eventually realized that the transgressions of politicians are much more likely to be reported than the transgressions of lawyers and doctors. My intuitive impression could be due entirely to journalists’ choices of topics and to my reliance on the availability heuristic.

Amos and I spent several years studying and documenting biases of intuitive thinking in various tasks, assigning probabilities to events, forecasting the future, assessing hypotheses, and estimating frequencies. In the fifth year of our collaboration, we presented our main findings in Science magazine, a publication read by scholars in many disciplines. The article (which is reproduced in full at the end of this book) was titled “Judgment Under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases.” It described the simplifying shortcuts of intuitive thinking and explained some 20 biases as manifestations of these heuristics, and also as demonstrations of the role of heuristics in judgment.

Historians of science have often noted that at any given time scholars in a particular field tend to share basic assumptions about their subject. Social scientists are no exception; they rely on a view of human nature that provides the background of most discussions of specific behaviors but is rarely questioned. Social scientists in the 1970s broadly accepted two ideas about human nature. First, people are generally rational, and their thinking is normally sound. Second, emotions such as fear, affection, and hatred explain most of the occasions on which people depart from rationality. Our article challenged both assumptions without discussing them directly. We documented systematic errors in the thinking of normal people, and we traced these errors to the design of the machinery of cognition rather than to the corruption of thought by emotion.

Our article attracted much more attention than we had expected, and it remains one of the most highly cited works in social science (more than three hundred scholarly articles referred to it in 2010). Scholars in other disciplines found it useful, and the ideas of heuristics and biases have been used productively in many fields, including medical diagnosis, legal judgment, intelligence analysis, philosophy, finance, statistics, and military strategy.

For example, students of policy have noted that the availability heuristic helps explain why some issues are highly salient in the public’s mind while others are neglected. People tend to assess the relative importance of issues by the ease with which they are retrieved from memory, and this is largely determined by the extent of coverage in the media. Frequently mentioned topics populate the mind even as others slip away from awareness. In turn, what the media choose to report corresponds to their view of what is currently on the public’s mind. It is no accident that authoritarian regimes exert substantial pressure on independent media. Because public interest is most easily aroused by dramatic events and by celebrities, media feeding frenzies are common. For several weeks after Michael Jackson’s death, for example, it was virtually impossible to find a television channel reporting on another topic. In contrast, there is little coverage of critical but unexciting issues that provide less drama, such as declining educational standards or overinvestment of medical resources in the last year of life. (As I write this, I notice that my choice of “little-covered” examples was guided by availability. The topics I chose as examples are mentioned often; equally important issues that are less available did not come to my mind.)

We did not fully realize it at the time, but a key reason for the broad appeal of “heuristics and biases” outside psychology was an incidental feature of our work: we almost always included in our articles the full text of the questions we had asked ourselves and our respondents. These questions served as demonstrations for the reader, allowing him to recognize how his own thinking was tripped up by cognitive biases. I hope you had such an experience as you read the question about Steve the librarian, which was intended to help you appreciate the power of resemblance as a cue to probability and to see how easy it is to ignore relevant statistical facts.

The use of demonstrations provided scholars from diverse disciplines, notably philosophers and economists, an unusual opportunity to observe possible flaws in their own thinking. Having seen themselves fail, they became more likely to question the dogmatic assumption, prevalent at the time, that the human mind is rational and logical. The choice of method was crucial: if we had reported results of only conventional experiments, the article would have been less noteworthy and less memorable. Furthermore, skeptical readers would have distanced themselves from the results by attributing judgment errors to the familiar fecklessness of undergraduates, the typical participants in psychological studies. Of course, we did not choose demonstrations over standard experiments because we wanted to influence philosophers and economists. We preferred demonstrations because they were more fun, and we were lucky in our choice of method as well as in many other ways.

A recurrent theme of this book is that luck plays a large role in every story of success; it is almost always easy to identify a small change in the story that would have turned a remarkable achievement into a mediocre outcome. Our story was no exception.

The reaction to our work was not uniformly positive. In particular, our focus on biases was criticized as suggesting an unfairly negative view of the mind. As expected in normal science, some investigators refined our ideas and others offered plausible alternatives. By and large, though, the idea that our minds are susceptible to systematic errors is now generally accepted. Our research on judgment had far more effect on social science than we thought possible when we were working on it.

Immediately after completing our review of judgment, we switched our attention to decision making under uncertainty. Our goal was to develop a psychological theory of how people make decisions about simple gambles. For example: Would you accept a bet on the toss of a coin where you win $130 if the coin shows heads and lose $100 if it shows tails? These elementary choices had long been used to examine broad questions about decision making, such as the relative weight that people assign to sure things and to uncertain outcomes. Our method did not change: we spent many days making up choice problems and examining whether our intuitive preferences conformed to the logic of choice. Here again, as in judgment, we observed systematic biases in our own decisions, intuitive preferences that consistently violated the rules of rational choice. Five years after the Science article, we published “Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision Under Risk,” a theory of choice that is by some counts more influential than our work on judgment, and is one of the foundations of behavioral economics.

Until geographical separation made it too difficult to go on, Amos and I enjoyed the extraordinary good fortune of a shared mind that was superior to our individual minds and of a relationship that made our work fun as well as productive. Our collaboration on judgment and decision making was the reason for the Nobel Prize that I received in 2002, which Amos would have shared had he not died, aged fifty-nine, in 1996.


This book is not intended as an exposition of the early research that Amos and I conducted together, a task that has been ably carried out by many authors over the years. My main aim here is to present a view of how the mind works that draws on recent developments in cognitive and social psychology. One of the more important developments is that we now understand the marvels as well as the flaws of intuitive thought.

Amos and I did not address accurate intuitions beyond the casual statement that judgment heuristics “are quite useful, but sometimes lead to severe and systematic errors.” We focused on biases, both because we found them interesting in their own right and because they provided evidence for the heuristics of judgment. We did not ask ourselves whether all intuitive judgments under uncertainty are produced by the heuristics we studied; it is now clear that they are not. In particular, the accurate intuitions of experts are better explained by the effects of prolonged practice than by heuristics. We can now draw a richer and more balanced picture, in which skill and heuristics are alternative sources of intuitive judgments and choices.

The psychologist Gary Klein tells the story of a team of firefighters that entered a house in which the kitchen was on fire. Soon after they started hosing down the kitchen, the commander heard himself shout, “Let’s get out of here!” without realizing why. The floor collapsed almost immediately after the firefighters escaped. Only after the fact did the commander realize that the fire had been unusually quiet and that his ears had been unusually hot. Together, these impressions prompted what he called a “sixth sense of danger.” He had no idea what was wrong, but he knew something was wrong. It turned out that the heart of the fire had not been in the kitchen but in the basement beneath where the men had stood.

We have all heard such stories of expert intuition: the chess master who walks past a street game and announces “White mates in three” without stopping, or the physician who makes a complex diagnosis after a single glance at a patient. Expert intuition strikes us as magical, but it is not. Indeed, each of us performs feats of intuitive expertise many times each day. Most of us are pitch-perfect in detecting anger in the first word of a telephone call, recognize as we enter a room that we were the subject of the conversation, and quickly react to subtle signs that the driver of the car in the next lane is dangerous. Our everyday intuitive abilities are no less marvelous than the striking insights of an experienced firefighter or physician, only more common.

The psychology of accurate intuition involves no magic. Perhaps the best short statement of it is by the great Herbert Simon, who studied chess masters and showed that after thousands of hours of practice they come to see the pieces on the board differently from the rest of us. You can feel Simon’s impatience with the mythologizing of expert intuition when he writes: “The situation has provided a cue; this cue has given the expert access to information stored in memory, and the information provides the answer. Intuition is nothing more and nothing less than recognition.”

We are not surprised when a two-year-old looks at a dog and says “doggie!” because we are used to the miracle of children learning to recognize and name things. Simon’s point is that the miracles of expert intuition have the same character. Valid intuitions develop when experts have learned to recognize familiar elements in a new situation and to act in a manner that is appropriate to it. Good intuitive judgments come to mind with the same immediacy as “doggie!”

Unfortunately, professionals’ intuitions do not all arise from true expertise. Many years ago I visited the chief investment officer of a large financial firm, who told me that he had just invested some tens of millions of dollars in the stock of Ford Motor Company. When I asked how he had made that decision, he replied that he had recently attended an automobile show and had been impressed. “Boy, do they know how to make a car!” was his explanation. He made it very clear that he trusted his gut feeling and was satisfied with himself and with his decision. I found it remarkable that he had apparently not considered the one question that an economist would call relevant: Is Ford stock currently underpriced? Instead, he had listened to his intuition; he liked the cars, he liked the company, and he liked the idea of owning its stock. From what we know about the accuracy of stock picking, it is reasonable to believe that he did not know what he was doing.

The specific heuristics that Amos and I studied provide little help in understanding how the executive came to invest in Ford stock, but a broader conception of heuristics now exists, which offers a good account. An important advance is that emotion now looms much larger in our understanding of intuitive judgments and choices than it did in the past. The executive’s decision would today be described as an example of the affect heuristic, where judgments and decisions are guided directly by feelings of liking and disliking, with little deliberation or reasoning.

When confronted with a problem, choosing a chess move or deciding whether to invest in a stock, the machinery of intuitive thought does the best it can. If the individual has relevant expertise, she will recognize the situation, and the intuitive solution that comes to her mind is likely to be correct. This is what happens when a chess master looks at a complex position: the few moves that immediately occur to him are all strong. When the question is difficult and a skilled solution is not available, intuition still has a shot: an answer may come to mind quickly, but it is not an answer to the original question. The question that the executive faced (should I invest in Ford stock?) was difficult, but the answer to an easier and related question (do I like Ford cars?) came readily to his mind and determined his choice. This is the essence of intuitive heuristics: when faced with a difficult question, we often answer an easier one instead, usually without noticing the substitution.

The spontaneous search for an intuitive solution sometimes fails, neither an expert solution nor a heuristic answer comes to mind. In such cases we often find ourselves switching to a slower, more deliberate and effortful form of thinking. This is the slow thinking of the title. Fast thinking includes both variants of intuitive thought, the expert and the heuristic, as well as the entirely automatic mental activities of perception and memory, the operations that enable you to know there is a lamp on your desk or retrieve the name of the capital of Russia.

The distinction between fast and slow thinking has been explored by many psychologists over the last twenty-five years. For reasons that I explain more fully in the next chapter, I describe mental life by the metaphor of two agents, called System 1 and System 2, which respectively produce fast and slow thinking. I speak of the features of intuitive and deliberate thought as if they were traits and dispositions of two characters in your mind. In the picture that emerges from recent research, the intuitive System 1 is more influential than your experience tells you, and it is the secret author of many of the choices and judgments you make. Most of this book is about the workings of System 1 and the mutual influences between it and System 2.


The book is divided into five parts. Part 1 presents the basic elements of a two-systems approach to judgment and choice. It elaborates the distinction between the automatic operations of System 1 and the controlled operations of System 2, and shows how associative memory, the core of System 1, continually constructs a coherent interpretation of what is going on in our world at any instant. I attempt to give a sense of the complexity and richness of the automatic and often unconscious processes that underlie intuitive thinking, and of how these automatic processes explain the heuristics of judgment. A goal is to introduce a language for thinking and talking about the mind.

Part 2 updates the study of judgment heuristics and explores a major puzzle: Why is it so difficult for us to think statistically? We easily think associatively, we think metaphorically, we think causally, but statistics requires thinking about many things at once, which is something that System 1 is not designed to do.

The difficulties of statistical thinking contribute to the main theme of Part 3, which describes a puzzling limitation of our mind: our excessive confidence in what we believe we know, and our apparent inability to acknowledge the full extent of our ignorance and the uncertainty of the world we live in. We are prone to overestimate how much we understand about the world and to underestimate the role of chance in events. Overconfidence is fed by the illusory certainty of hindsight. My views on this topic have been influenced by Nassim Taleb, the author of The Black Swan. I hope for watercooler conversations that intelligently explore the lessons that can be learned from the past while resisting the lure of hindsight and the illusion of certainty.

The focus of part 4 is a conversation with the discipline of economics on the nature of decision making and on the assumption that economic agents are rational. This section of the book provides a current view, informed by the two-system model, of the key concepts of prospect theory, the model of choice that Amos and I published in 1979. Subsequent chapters address several ways human choices deviate from the rules of rationality. I deal with the unfortunate tendency to treat problems in isolation, and with framing effects, where decisions are shaped by inconsequential features of choice problems. These observations, which are readily explained by the features of System 1, present a deep challenge to the rationality assumption favored in standard economics.

Part 5 describes recent research that has introduced a distinction between two selves, the experiencing self and the remembering self, which do not have the same interests. For example, we can expose people to two painful experiences. One of these experiences is strictly worse than the other, because it is longer. But the automatic formation of memories, a feature of System 1, has its rules, which we can exploit so that the worse episode leaves a better memory. When people later choose which episode to repeat, they are, naturally, guided by their remembering self and expose themselves (their experiencing self) to unnecessary pain. The distinction between two selves is applied to the measurement of well-being, where we find again that what makes the experiencing self happy is not quite the same as what satisfies the remembering self. How two selves within a single body can pursue happiness raises some difficult questions, both for individuals and for societies that view the well-being of the population as a policy objective.

A concluding chapter explores, in reverse order, the implications of three distinctions drawn in the book: between the experiencing and the remembering selves, between the conception of agents in classical economics and in behavioral economics (which borrows from psychology), and between the automatic System 1 and the effortful System 2. I return to the virtues of educating gossip and to what organizations might do to improve the quality of judgments and decisions that are made on their behalf.

Two articles I wrote with Amos are reproduced as appendixes to the book. The first is the review of judgment under uncertainty that I described earlier. The second, published in 1984, summarizes prospect theory as well as our studies of framing effects. The articles present the contributions that were cited by the Nobel committee and you may be surprised by how simple they are. Reading them will give you a sense of how much we knew a long time ago, and also of how much we have learned in recent decades.


1: The Characters of the Story

To observe your mind in automatic mode, glance at the image below.

Figure 1


Your experience as you look at the woman’s face seamlessly combines what we normally call seeing and intuitive thinking. As surely and quickly as you saw that the young woman’s hair is dark, you knew she is angry.

Furthermore, what you saw extended into the future. You sensed that this woman is about to say some very unkind words, probably in a loud and strident voice. A premonition of what she was going to do next came to mind automatically and effortlessly. You did not intend to assess her mood or to anticipate what she might do, and your reaction to the picture did not have the feel of something you did. It just happened to you. It was an instance of fast thinking.

Now look at the following problem:


You knew immediately that this is a multiplication problem, and probably knew that you could solve it, with paper and pencil, if not without. You also had some vague intuitive knowledge of the range of possible results. You would be quick to recognize that both 12,609 and 123 are implausible. Without spending some time on the problem, however, you would not be certain that the answer is not 568. A precise solution did not come to mind, and you felt that you could choose whether or not to engage in the computation. If you have not done so yet, you should attempt the multiplication problem now, completing at least part of it.

You experienced slow thinking as you proceeded through a sequence of steps. You first retrieved from memory the cognitive program for multiplication that you learned in school, then you implemented it. Carrying out the computation was a strain. You felt the burden of holding much material in memory, as you needed to keep track of where you were and of where you were going, while holding on to the intermediate result. The process was mental work: deliberate, effortful, and orderly, a prototype of slow thinking. The computation was not only an event in your mind; your body was also involved. Your muscles tensed up, your blood pressure rose, and your heart rate increased. Someone looking closely at your eyes while you tackled this problem would have seen your pupils dilate. Your pupils contracted back to normal size as soon as you ended your work, when you found the answer (which is 408, by the way) or when you gave up.


Psychologists have been intensely interested for several decades in the two modes of thinking evoked by the picture of the angry woman and by the multiplication problem, and have offered many labels for them. I adopt terms originally proposed by the psychologists Keith Stanovich and Richard West, and will refer to two systems in the mind, System 1 and System 2.

– System 1 operates automatically and quickly, with little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control.

– System 2 allocates attention to the effortful mental activities that demand it, including complex computations. The operations of System 2 are often associated with the subjective experience of agency, choice, and concentration.

The labels of System 1 and System 2 are widely used in psychology, but I go further than most in this book, which you can read as a psychodrama with two characters.

When we think of ourselves, we identify with System 2, the conscious, reasoning self that has beliefs, makes choices, and decides what to think about and what to do. Although System 2 believes itself to be where the action is, the automatic System 1 is the hero of the book. I describe System 1 as effortlessly originating impressions and feelings that are the main sources of the explicit beliefs and deliberate choices of System 2. The automatic operations of System 1 generate surprisingly complex patterns of ideas, but only the slower System 2 can construct thoughts in an orderly series of steps. I also describe circumstances in which System 2 takes over, overruling the freewheeling impulses and associations of System 1. You will be invited to think of the two systems as agents with their individual abilities, limitations, and functions.

In rough order of complexity, here are some examples of the automatic activities that are attributed to System 1:

– Detect that one object is more distant than another.

– Orient to the source of a sudden sound.

– Complete the phrase “bread and …”

– Make a “disgust face” when shown a horrible picture.

-Detect hostility in a voice.

– Answer 2 + 2 = ?

– Read words on large billboards.

– Drive a car on an empty road.

– Find a strong move in chess (if you are a chess master).

– Understand simple sentences.

– Recognize that a “meek and tidy soul with a passion for detail” resembles an occupational stereotype.

All these mental events belong with the angry woman, they occur automatically and require little or no effort. The capabilities of System 1 include innate skills that we share with other animals. We are born prepared to perceive the world around us, recognize objects, orient attention, avoid losses, and fear spiders. Other mental activities become fast and automatic through prolonged practice. System 1 has learned associations between ideas (the capital of France?); it has also learned skills such as reading and understanding nuances of social situations. Some skills, such as finding strong chess moves, are acquired only by specialized experts. Others are widely shared. Detecting the similarity of a personality sketch to an occupational stereotype requires broad knowledge of the language and the culture, which most of us possess. The knowledge is stored in memory and accessed without intention and without effort.

Several of the mental actions in the list are completely involuntary. You cannot refrain from understanding simple sentences in your own language or from orienting to a loud unexpected sound, nor can you prevent yourself from knowing that 2 + 2 = 4 or from thinking of Paris when the capital of France is mentioned. Other activities, such as chewing, are susceptible to voluntary control but normally run on automatic pilot. The control of attention is shared by the two systems. Orienting to a loud sound is normally an involuntary operation of System 1, which immediately mobilizes the voluntary attention of System 2. You may be able to resist turning toward the source of a loud and offensive comment at a crowded party, but even if your head does not move, your attention is initially directed to it, at least for a while. However, attention can be moved away from an unwanted focus, primarily by focusing intently on another target.

The highly diverse operations of System 2 have one feature in common: they require attention and are disrupted when attention is drawn away. Here are some examples:

– Brace for the starter gun in a race.

– Focus attention on the clowns in the circus.

– Focus on the voice of a particular person in a crowded and noisy room.

– Look for a woman with white hair.

– Search memory to identify a surprising sound.

– Maintain a faster walking speed than is natural for you.

– Monitor the appropriateness of your behavior in a social situation.

– Count the occurrences of the letter a in a page of text.

– Tell someone your phone number.

– Park in a narrow space (for most people except garage attendants).

– Compare two washing machines for overall value.

– Fill out a tax form.

– Check the vaIidity of a complex logical argument.

In aIl these situations you must pay attention, and you will perform less well, or not at all, if you are not ready or if your attention is directed inappropriately. System 2 has some ability to change the way System 1 works, by programming the normally automatic functions of attention and memory. When waiting for a relative at a busy train station, for example, you can set yourself at will to look for a white-haired woman or a bearded man, and thereby increase the likelihood of detecting your relative from a distance. You can set your memory to search for capital cities that start with N or for French existentialist novels. And when you rent a car at London’s Heathrow Airport, the attendant will probably remind you that “we drive on the left side of the road over here.” In all these cases, you are asked to do something that does not come naturally, and you will find that the consistent maintenance of a set requires continuous exertion of at least some effort.

The often-used phrase “pay attention” is apt: you dispose of a limited budget of attention that you can allocate to activities, and if you try to go beyond your budget, you will fail. It is the mark of effortful activities that they interfere with each other, which is why it is difficult or impossible to conduct several at once. You could not compute the product of 17 x 24 while making a left turn into dense traffic, and you certainly should not try. You can do several things at once, but only if they are easy and undemanding. You are probably safe carrying on a conversation with a passenger while driving on an empty highway, and many parents have discovered, perhaps with some guilt, that they can read a story to a child while thinking of something else.

Everyone has some awareness of the limited capacity of attention, and our social behavior makes allowances for these limitations. When the driver of a car is overtaking a truck on a narrow road, for example, adult passengers quite sensibly stop talking. They know that distracting the driver is not a good idea, and they also suspect that he is temporarily deaf and will not hear what they say.

Intense focusing on a task can make people effectively blind, even to stimuli that normally attract attention.

The most dramatic demonstration was offered by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons in their book The Invisible Gorilla. They constructed a short film of two teams passing basketballs, one team wearing white shirts, the other wearing black. The viewers of the film are instructed to count the number of passes made by the white team, ignoring the black players. This task is difficult and completely absorbing. Halfway through the video, a woman wearing a gorilla suit appears, crosses the court, thumps her chest, and moves on. The gorilla is in view for 9 seconds. Many thousands of people have seen the video, and about half of them do not notice anything unusual. It is the counting task, and especially the instruction to ignore one of the teams, that causes the blindness. No one who watches the video without that task would miss the gorilla. Seeing and orienting are automatic functions of System 1, but they depend on the allocation of some attention to the relevant stimulus. The authors note that the most remarkable observation of their study is that people find its results very surprising. Indeed, the viewers who fail to see the gorilla are initially sure that it was not there, they cannot imagine missing such a striking event. The gorilla study illustrates two important facts about our minds: we can be blind to the obvious, and we are also blind to our blindness.


The interaction of the two systems is a recurrent theme of the book, and a brief synopsis of the plot is in order.

In the story I will tell, Systems 1 and 2 are both active whenever we are awake. System 1 runs automatically and System 2 is normally in a comfortable low-effort mode, in which only a fraction of its capacity is engaged. System 1 continuously generates suggestions for System 2: impressions, intuitions, intentions, and feelings. If endorsed by System 2, impressions and intuitions turn into beliefs, and impulses turn into voluntary actions. When all goes smoothly, which is most of the time, System 2 adopts the suggestions of System 1 with little or no modification. You generally believe your impressions and act on your desires, and that is fine, usually.

When System 1 runs into difficulty, it calls on System 2 to support more detailed and specific processing that may solve the problem of the moment. System 2 is mobilized when a question arises for which System 1 does not offer an answer, as probably happened to you when you encountered the multiplication problem 17 x 24. You can also feel a surge of conscious attention whenever you are surprised. System 2 is activated when an event is detected that violates the model of the world that System 1 maintains. In that world, lamps do not jump, cats do not bark, and gorillas do not cross basketball courts. The gorilla experiment demonstrates that some attention is needed for the surprising stimulus to be detected. Surprise then activates and orients your attention: you will stare, and you will search your memory for a story that makes sense of the surprising event.

System 2 is also credited with the continuous monitoring of your own behavior, the control that keeps you polite when you are angry, and alert when you are driving at night. System 2 is mobilized to increased effort when it detects an error about to be made. Remember a time when you almost blurted out an offensive remark and note how hard you worked to restore control. In summary, most of what you (your System 2) think and do originates in your System 1, but System 2 takes over when things get difficult, and it normally has the last word.

The division of labor between System 1 and System 2 is highly efficient: it minimizes effort and optimizes performance. The arrangement works well most of the time because System 1 is generally very good at what it does: its models of familiar situations are accurate, its short term predictions are usually accurate as well, and its initial reactions to challenges are swift and generally appropriate. System 1 has biases, however, systematic errors that it is prone to make in specified circumstances. As we shall see, it sometimes answers easier questions than the one it was asked, and it has little understanding of logic and statistics. One further limitation of System 1 is that it cannot be turned off. If you are shown a word on the screen in a language you know, you will read it, unless your attention is totaly focused elsewhere.


Figure 2 is a variant of a classic experiment that produces a conflict between the two systems. You should try the exercise before reading on.

Figure 2


You were almost certainly successful in saying the correct words in both tasks, and you surely discovered that some parts of each task were much easier than others. When you identified upper and lowercase, the left-hand column was easy and the right-hand column caused you to slow down and perhaps to stammer or stumble. When you named the position of words, the left-hand column was difficult and the right-hand column was much easier.

These tasks engage System 2, because saying “upper/lower” or “right/left” is not what you routinely do when looking down a column of words. One of the things you did to set yourself for the task was to program your memory so that the relevant words (upper and lower for the first task) were “on the tip of your tongue.” The prioritizing of the chosen words is effective and the mild temptation to read other words was fairly easy to resist when you went through the first column. But the second column was different, because it contained words for which you were set, and you could not ignore them. You were mostly able to respond correctly, but overcoming the competing response was a strain, and it slowed you down. You experienced a conflict between a task that you intended to carry out and an automatic response that interfered with it.

Conflict between an automatic reaction and an intention to control it is common in our lives. We are all familiar with the experience of trying not to stare at the oddly dressed couple at the neighboring table in a restaurant. We also know what it is like to force our attention on a boring book, when we constantly find ourselves returning to the point at which the reading lost its meaning. Where winters are hard, many drivers have memories of their car skidding out of control on the ice and of the struggle to follow well rehearsed instructions that negate what they would naturally do: “Steer into the skid, and whatever you do, do not touch the brakes!” And every human being has had the experience of not telling someone to go to hell. One of the tasks of System 2 is to overcome the impulses of System 1. In other words, System 2 is in charge of self-control.


To appreciate the autonomy of System 1, as well as the distinction between impressions and beliefs, take a good look at figure 3.

Figure 3


This picture is unremarkable: two horizontal lines of different lengths, with fins appended, pointing in different directions. The bottom line is obviously longer than the one above it. That is what we all see, and we naturally believe what we see. If you have already encountered this image, however, you recognize it as the famous Müller-Lyer illusion. As you can easily confirm by measuring them with a ruler, the horizontal lines are in fact identical in length.

Now that you have measured the lines, you, your System 2, the conscious being you call “I”, have a new belief: you know that the lines are equally long. If asked about their length, you will say what you know. But you still see the bottom line as longer. You have chosen to believe the measurement, but you cannot prevent System 1 from doing its thing; you cannot decide to see the lines as equal, although you know they are. To resist the illusion, there is only one thing you can do: you must learn to mistrust your impressions of the length of lines when fins are attached to them. To implement that rule, you must be able to recognize the illusory pattern and recall what you know about it. If you can do this, you will never again be fooled by the Müller-Lyer illusion. But you will still see one line as longer than the other.

Not all illusions are visual. There are illusions of thought, which we call cognitive illusions. As a graduate student, I attended some courses on the art and science of psychotherapy. During one of these lectures, our teacher imparted a morsel of clinical wisdom. This is what he told us:

“You will from time to time meet a patient who shares a disturbing tale of multiple mistakes in his previous treatment. He has been seen by several clinicians, and all failed him. The patient can lucidly describe how his therapists misunderstood him, but he has quickly perceived that you are different. You share the same feeling, are convinced that you understand him, and will be able to help.” At this point my teacher raised his voice as he said, “Do not even think of taking on this patient! Throw him out of the office! He is most likely a psychopath and you will not be able to help him.”

Many years later I learned that the teacher had warned us against pschopathic charm, and the leading authority in the study of psychopathy confirmed that the teacher’s advice was sound. The analogy to the Müller-Lyer illusion is close. What we were being taught was not how to feel about that patient. Our teacher took it for granted that the sympathy we would feel for the patient would not be under our control; it would arise from System 1. Furthermore, we were not being taught to be generally suspicious of our feelings about patients. We were told that a strong attraction to a patient with a repeated history of failed treatment is a danger sign, like the fins on the parallel lines. It is an illusion, a cognitive illusion and I (System 2) was taught how to recognize it and advised not to believe it or act on it.

The question that is most often asked about cognitive illusions is whether they can be overcome. The message of these examples is not encouraging. Because System 1 operates automatically and cannot be turned off at will, errors of intuitive thought are often difficult to prevent. Biases cannot always be avoided, because System 2 may have no clue to the error. Even when cues to likely errors are available, errors can be prevented only by the enhanced monitoring and effortful activity of System 2.

As a way to live your life, however, continuous vigilance is not necessarily good, and it is certainly impractical. Constantly questioning our own thinking would be impossibly tedious, and System 2 is much too slow and inefficient to serve as a substitute for System 1 in making routine decisions. The best we can do is a compromise: learn to recognize situations in which mistakes are likely and try harder to avoid significant mistakes when the stakes are high. The premise of this book is that it is easier to recognize other people’s mistakes than our own.


You have been invited to think of the two systems as agents within the mind, with their individual personalities, abilities, and limitations. I will often use sentences in which the systems are the subjects, such as, “System 2 calculates products.”

The use of such language is considered a sin in the professional circles in which I travel, because it seems to explain the thoughts and actions of a person by the thoughts and actions of little people inside the person’s head. Grammatically the sentence about System 2 is similar to “The butler steals the petty cash.” My colleagues would point out that the butler’s action actually explains the disappearance of the cash, and they rightly question whether the sentence about System 2 explains how products are calculated. My answer is that the brief active sentence that attributes calculation to System 2 is intended as a description, not an explanation. It is meaningful only because of what you already know about System 2. It is shorthand for the following: “Mental arithmetic is a voluntary activity that requires effort, should not be performed while making a left turn, and is associated with dilated pupils and an accelerated heart rate.”

Similarly, the statement that “highway driving under routine conditions is left to System 1” means that steering the car around a bend is automatic and almost effortless. It also implies that an experienced driver can drive on an empty highway while conducting a conversation. Finally, “System 2 prevented James from reacting foolishly to the insult” means that James would have been more aggressive in his response if his capacity for effortful control had been disrupted (for example, if he had been drunk).

System 1 and System 2 are so central to the story I tell in this book that I must make it absolutely clear that they are fictitious characters. Systems 1 and 2 are not systems in the standard sense of entities with interacting aspects or parts. And there is no one part of the brain that either of the systems would call home. You may well ask: What is the point of introducing fictitious characters with ugly names into a serious book? The answer is that the characters are useful because of some quirks of our minds, yours and mine. A sentence is understood more easily if it describes what an agent (System 2) does than if it describes what something is, what properties it has. In other words, “System 2” is a better subject for a sentence than “mental arithmetic.” The mind, especially System 1, appears to have a special aptitude for the construction and interpretation of stories about active agents, who have personalities, habits, and abilities. You quickly formed a bad opinion of the thieving butler, you expect more bad behavior from him, and you will remember him for a while. This is also my hope for the language of systems.

Why call them System 1 and System 2 rather than the more descriptive “automatic system” and “effortful system”? The reason is simple: “Automatic system” takes longer to say than “System 1” and therefore takes more space in our working memory. This matters, because anything that occupies your working memory reduces your ability to think. You should treat “System 1” and “System 2” as nicknames, like Bob and Joe, identifying characters that you will get to know over the course of this book. The fictitious systems make it easier for me to think about judgment and choice, and will make it easier for you to understand what I say.


“He had an impression, but some of his impressions are illusions.”

“This was a pure System 1 response. She reacted to the threat before she recognized it.”

“This is your System 1 talking. Slow down and let your System 2 take control.”


Attention and Effort

In the unlikely event of this book being made into a film, System 2 would be a supporting character who believes herself to be the hero. The defining feature of System 2, in this story, is that its operations are effortful, and one of its main characteristics is laziness, a reluctance to invest more effort than is strictly necessary. As a consequence, the thoughts and actions that System 2 believes it has chosen are often guided by the figure at the center of the story, System 1. However, there are vital tasks that only System 2 can perform because they require effort and acts of self-control in which the intuitions and impulses of System 1 are overcome.


If you wish to experience your System 2 working at full tilt, the following exercise will do; it should bring you to the limits of your cognitive abilities within 5 seconds. To start, make up several strings of 4 digits, all different, and write each string on an index card. Place a blank card on top of the deck. The task that you will perform is called Add-1. Here is how it goes:

Start beating a steady rhythm (or better yet, set a metronome at 1/sec). Remove the blank card and read the four digits aloud. Wait for two beats, then report a string in which each of the original digits is incremented by 1. If the digits on the card are 5294, the correct response is 6305. Keeping the rhythm is important.

Few people can cope with more than four digits in the Add-1 task, but if you want a harder challenge, please try Add-3.

If you would like to know what your body is doing while your mind is hard at work, set up two piles of books on a sturdy table, place a video camera on one and lean your chin on the other, get the video going, and stare at the camera lens while you work on Add-1 or Add-3 exercises. Later, you will find in the changing size of your pupils a faithful record of how hard you worked.

I have a long personal history with the Add-1 task. Early in my career I spent a year at the University of Michigan, as a visitor in a laboratory that studied hypnosis. Casting about for a useful topic of research, I found an article in Scientific American in which the psychologist Eckhard Hess described the pupil of the eye as a window to the soul. I reread it recently and again found it inspiring.

It begins with Hess reporting that his wife had noticed his pupils widening as he watched beautiful nature pictures, and it ends with two striking pictures of the same good looking woman, who somehow appears much more attractive in one than in the other. There is only one difference: the pupils of the eyes appear dilated in the attractive picture and constricted in the other.

Hess also wrote of belladonna, a pupil-dilating substance that was used as a cosmetic, and of bazaar shoppers who wear dark glasses in order to hide their level of interest from merchants.

One of Hess’s findings especially captured my attention. He had noticed that the pupils are sensitive indicators of mental effort, they dilate substantially when people multiply two-digit numbers, and they dilate more if the problems are hard than if they are easy. His observations indicated that the response to mental effort is distinct from emotional arousal. Hess’s work did not have much to do with hypnosis, but I concluded that the idea of a visible indication of mental effort had promise as a research topic. A graduate student in the lab, Jackson Beatty, shared my enthusiasm and we got to work.

Beatty and I developed a setup similar to an optician’s examination room, in which the experimental participant leaned her head on a chin-and-forehead rest and stared at a camera while listening to prerecorded information and answering questions on the recorded beats of a metronome. The beats triggered an infrared flash every second, causing a picture to be taken. At the end of each experimental session, we would rush to have the film developed, project the images of the pupil on a screen, and go to work with a ruler. The method was a perfect fit for young and impatient researchers: we knew our results almost immediately, and they always told a clear story.

Beatty and I focused on paced tasks, such as Add-1, in which we knew precisely what was on the subject’s mind at any time. We recorded strings of digits on beats of the metronome and instructed the subject to repeat or transform the digits one by one, maintaining the same rhythm. We soon discovered that the size of the pupil varied second by second, reflecting the changing demands of the task. The shape of the response was an inverted V. As you experienced it if you tried Add-1 or Add-3, effort builds up with every added digit that you hear, reaches an almost intolerable peak as you rush to produce a transformed string during and immediately after the pause, and relaxes gradually as you “unload” your short-term memory.

The pupil data corresponded precisely to subjective experience: longer strings reliably caused larger dilations, the transformation task compounded the effort, and the peak of pupil size coincided with maximum effort. Add-1 with four digits caused a larger dilation than the task of holding seven digits for immediate recall. Add-3, which is much more difficult, is the most demanding that I ever observed. In the first 5 seconds, the pupil dilates by about 50% of its original area and heart rate increases by about 7 beats per minute. This is as hard as people can work, they give up if more is asked of them. When we exposed our subjects to more digits than they could remember, their pupils stopped dilating or actually shrank.

We worked for some months in a spacious basement suite in which we had set up a closed-circuit system that projected an image of the subject’s pupil on a screen in the corridor; we also could hear what was happening in the laboratory. The diameter of the projected pupil was about a foot; watching it dilate and contract when the participant was at work was a fascinating sight, quite an attraction for visitors in our lab. We amused ourselves and impressed our guests by our ability to divine when the participant gave up on a task. During a mental multiplication, the pupil normally dilated to a large size within a few seconds and stayed large as long as the individual kept working on the problem; it contracted immediately when she found a solution or gave up.

As we watched from the corridor, we would sometimes surprise both the owner of the pupil and our guests by asking, “Why did you stop working just now?” The answer from inside the lab was often, “How did you know?” to which we would reply, “We have a window to your soul.”

The casual observations we made from the corridor were sometimes as informative as the formal experiments. I made a significant discovery as I was idly watching a woman’s pupil during a break between two tasks. She had kept her position on the chin rest, so I could see the image of her eye while she engaged in routine conversation with the experimenter. I was surprised to see that the pupil remained small and did not noticeably dilate as she talked and listened. Unlike the tasks that we were studying, the mundane conversation apparently demanded little or no effort, no more than retaining two or three digits. This was a eureka moment: I realized that the tasks we had chosen for study were exceptionally effortful. An image came to mind: mental life, today I would speak of the life of System 2, is normally conducted at the pace of a comfortable walk, sometimes interrupted by episodes of jogging and on rare occasions by a frantic sprint. The Add-1 and Add-3 exercises are sprints, and casual chatting is a stroll.

We found that people, when engaged in a mental sprint, may become effectively blind. The authors of The Invisible Gorilla had made the gorilla “invisible” by keeping the observers intensely busy counting passes. We reported a rather less dramatic example of blindness during Add-1. Our subjects were exposed to a series of randomly flashin letters while they worked. They were told to give the task complete priority, but they were also asked to report, at the end of the digit task, whether the letter K had appeared at any time during the trial. The main finding was that the ability to detect and report the target letter changed in the course of the 10 seconds of the exercise. The observers almost never missed a K that was shown at the beginning or near the end of the Add-1 task but they missed the target almost half the time when mental effort was at its peak, although we had pictures of their wide-open eye staring straight at it. Failures of detection followed the same inverted-V pattern as the dilating pupil. The similarity was reassuring: the pupil was a good measure of the physical arousal that accompanies mental effort, and we could go ahead and use it to understand how the mind works.

Much like the electricit meter outside your house or apartment, the pupils offer an index of the current rate at which mental energy is used. The analogy goes deep. Your use of electricity depends on what you choose to do, whether to light a room or toast a piece of bread. When you turn on a bulb or a toaster, it draws the energy it needs but no more. Similarly, we decide what to do, but we have limited control over the effort of doing it. Suppose you are shown four digits, say, 9462, and told that your life depends on holding them in memory for 10 seconds. However much you want to live, you cannot exert as much effort in this task as you would be forced to invest to complete an Add-3 transformation on the same digits.

System 2 and the electrical circuits in your home both have limited capacity, but they respond differently to threatened overload. A breaker trips when the demand for current is excessive, causing all devices on that circuit to lose power at once. In contrast, the response to mental overload is selective and precise: System 2 protects the most important activity, so it receives the attention it needs; “spare capacity” is allocated second by second to other tasks.

In our version of the gorilla experiment, we instructed the participants to assign priority to the digit task. We know that they followed that instruction, because the timing of the visual target had no effect on the main task. If the critical letter was presented at a time of high demand, the subjects simply did not see it. When the transformation task was less demanding, detection performance was better.

The sophisticated allocation of attention has been honed by a long evolutionary history. Orienting and responding quickly to the gravest threats or most promising opportunities improved the chance of survival, and this capability is certainly not restricted to humans. Even in modern humans, System 1 takes over in emergencies and assigns total priority to seIf-protective actions. Imagine yourself at the wheel of a car that unexpectedly skids on a large oil slick. You will find that you have responded to the threat before you became fully conscious of it.

Beatty and I worked together for only a year, but our collaboration had a large effect on our subsequent careers. He eventually became the leading authority on “cognitive pupillometry,” and I wrote a book titled Attention and Effort, which was based in large part on what we learned together and on follow-up research I did at Harvard the following year. We learned a great deal about the working mind, which I now think of as System 2, from measuring pupils in a wide variety of tasks.

As you become skilled in a task, its demand for energy diminishes. Studies of the brain have shown that the pattern of activity associated with an action changes as skill increases, with fewer brain regions involved. Talent has similar effects. Highly intelligent individuals need less effort to solve the same problems, as indicated by both pupil size and brain activity. A general “law of least effort” applies to cognitive as well as physical exertion. The law asserts that if there are several ways of achieving the same goal, people will eventually gravitate to the least demanding course of action. In the economy of action, effort is a cost, and the acquisition of skill is driven by the balance of benefits and costs. Laziness is built deep into our nature.

The tasks that we studied varied considerably in their effects on the pupil. At baseline, our subjects were awake, aware, and ready to engage in a task, probably at a higher level of arousal and cognitive readiness than usual. Holding one or two digits in memory or learning to associate a word with a digit (3 = door) produced reliable effects on momentary arousal above that baseline, but the effects were minuscule, only 5% of the increase in pupil diameter associated with Add-3. A task that required discriminating between the pitch of two tones yielded significantly larger dilations. Recent research has shown that inhibiting the tendency to read distracting words (as in figure 2 of the preceding chapter) also induces moderate effort. Tests of short-term memory for six or seven digits were more effortful. As you can experience, the request to retrieve and say aloud your phone number or your spouse’s birthday also requires a brief but significant effort, because the entire string must be held in memory as a response is organized. Mental multiplication of two-digit numbers and the Add-3 task are near the limit of what most people can do.

What makes some cognitive operations more demanding and effortful than others? What outcomes must we purchase in the currency of attention? What can System 2 do that System 1 cannot? We now have tentative answers to these questions.

Effort is required to maintain simultaneously in memory several ideas that require separate actions, or that need to be combined according to a rule, rehearsing your shopping list as you enter the supermarket, choosing between the fish and the veal at a restaurant, or combining a surprising result from a survey with the information that the sample was small, for example. System 2 is the only one that can follow rules, compare objects on several attributes, and make deliberate choices between options. The automatic System 1 does not have these capabilities. System 1 detects simple relations (“they are all alike,” “the son is much taller than the father”) and excels at integrating information about one thing, but it does not deal with multiple distinct topics at once, nor is it adept at using purely statistical information. System 1 will detect that a person described as “a meek and tidy soul, with a need for order and structure, and a passion for detail” resembles a caricature librarian, but combining this intuition with knowledge about the small number of librarians is a task that only System 2 can perform, if System 2 knows how to do so, which is true of few people.

A crucial capability of System 2 is the adoption of “task sets”: it can program memory to obey an instruction that overrides habitual responses. Consider the following: Count all occurrences of the letter f in this page. This is not a task you have ever performed before and it will not come naturally to you, but your System 2 can take it on. it will be effortful to set yourself up for this exercise, and effortful to carry it out, though you will surely improve with practice. Psychologists speak of “executive control” to describe the adoption and termination of task sets, and neuroscientists have identified the main regions of the brain that serve the executive function. One of these regions is involved whenever a conflict must be resolved. Another is the prefrontal area of the brain, a region that is substantially more developed in humans than in other primates, and is involved in operations that we associate with intelligence.

Now suppose that at the end of the page you get another instruction: count all the commas in the next page. This will be harder, because you will have to overcome the newly acquired tendency to focus attention on the letter f. One of the significant discoveries of cognitive psychologists in recent decades is that switching from one task to another is effortful, especially under time pressure. The need for rapid switching is one of the reasons that Add-3 and mental multiplication are so difficult. To perform the Add-3 task, you must hold several digits in your working memory at the same time, associating each with a particular operation: some digits are in the queue to be transformed, one is in the process of transformation, and others, already transformed, are retained for reporting. Modern tests of working memory require the individual to switch repeatedly between two demanding tasks, retaining the results of one operation while performing the other. People who do well on these tests tend to do well on tests of general intelligence. However, the ability to control attention is not simply a measure of intelligence; measures of efficiency in the control of attention predict performance of air traffic controllers and of Israeli Air Force pilots beyond the effects of intelligence.

Time pressure is another driver of effort. As you carried out the Add-3 exercise, the rush was imposed in part by the metronome and in part by the load on memory. Like a juggler with several balls in the air, you cannot afford to slow down; the rate at which material decays in memory forces the pace, driving you to refresh and rehearse information before it is lost. Any task that requires you to keep several ideas in mind at the same time has the same hurried character. Unless you have the good fortune of a capacious working memory, you may be forced to work uncomfortably hard. The most effortful forms of slow thinking are those that require you to think fast.

You surely observed as you performed Add-3 how unusual it is for your mind to work so hard. Even if you think for a living, few of the mental tasks in which you engage in the course of a working day are as demanding as Add-3, or even as demanding as storing six digits for immediate recall. We normally avoid mental overload by dividing our tasks into multiple easy steps, committing intermediate results to long-term memory or to paper rather than to an easily overloaded working memory. We cover long distances by taking our time and conduct our mental lives by the law of least effort.


“I won’t try to solve this while driving. This is a pupil-dilating task. It requires mental effort!”

“The law of least effort is operating here. He will think as little as possible.”

“She did not forget about the meeting. She was completely focused on something else when the meeting was set and she just didn’t hear you.”

“What came quickly to my mind was an intuition from System 1. I’ll have to start over and search my memory deliberately.”


The Lazy Controller

I spend a few months each year in Berkeley, and one of my great pleasures there is a daily four-mile walk on a marked path in the hills, with a fine view of San Francisco Bay. I usually keep track of my time and have learned a fair amount about effort from doing so. I have found a speed, about 17 minutes for a mile, which I experience as a stroll. I certainly exert physical effort and burn more calories at that speed than if I sat in a recliner, but I experience no strain, no conflict, and no need to push myself. I am also able to think and work while walking at that rate. Indeed, I suspect that the mild physical arousal of the walk may spill over into greater mental alertness.

System 2 also has a natural speed. You expend some mental energy in random thoughts and in monitoring what goes on around you even when your mind does nothing in particular, but there is little strain. Unless you are in a situation that makes you unusually wary or selfconscious, monitoring what happens in the environment with others, to depend on others, or to accept demands from others.

The psychologist who has done this remarkable research, Kathleen Vohs, has been laudably restrained in discussing the implications of her findings, leaving the task to her readers. Her experiments are profound, her findings suggest that living in a culture that surrounds us with reminders of money may shape our behavior and our attitudes in ways that we do not know about and of which we may not be proud. Some cultures provide frequent reminders of respect, others constantly remind their members of God, and some societies prime obedience by large images of the Dear Leader. Can there be any doubt that the ubiquitous portraits of the national leader in dictatorial societies not only convey the feeling that “Big Brother Is Watching” but also lead to an actual reduction in spontaneous thought and independent action?

The evidence of priming studies suggests that reminding people of their mortality increases the appeal of authoritarian ideas, which may become reassuring in the context of the terror of death. Other experiments have confirmed Freudian insights about the role of symbols and metaphors in unconscious associations. For example, consider the ambiguous word fragments W_ _ H and S_ _ P. People who were recently asked to think of an action of which they are ashamed are more likely to complete those fragments as WASH and SOAP and less likely to see WISH and SOUP. Furthermore, merely thinking about stabbing a coworker in the back leaves people more inclined to buy soap, disinfectant, or detergent than batteries, juice, or candy bars. Feeling that one’s soul is stained appears to trigger a desire to cleanse one’s body, an impulse that has been dubbed the “Lady Macbeth effect.”

“The world makes much less sense than you think. The coherence comes mostly from the way your mind works.”

“They were primed to find flaws, and this is exactly what they found.”

“His System 1 constructed a story, and his System 2 believed it. It happens to all of us.”

“I made myself smile and I’m actually feeling better!”

. . .


Thinking, Fast And Slow

by Daniel Kahneman

get it at Amazon.com

Island of Stone Money. Yap of the Carolines – William Henry Furness, 1910.

We at least can discern the little point of light from which our Martian visitors might come, and can appreciate the size and distance of another world, but to the man of Yap, whose whole world in length and breadth is but a day’s walk, our little steamboat emerges from an invisible spot, out of the very ocean.

Were the gates, reefs wider open and less dangerously ajar, “trade’s unfeeling train” would have long ago wholly overrun these imprisoned little lands and dispossessed the aboriginal “swain.”

The effect was magical! The audience forgot to breathe in awed silence! Their eyes dilated! Their jaws fell! And they began repeating after the instrument the words of their very own language, in the boy’s very own voice, now issuing from the bottom of the horn! Was the boy himself imprisoned there? For five or six seconds after the voice ceased, they remained silent, looking from one to another, and then they burst into peals and peals of screaming laughter, clamourously and vehemently imploring me to repeat it.”


ALTHOUGH old-time Pacific whalers and missionaries, both of them, let us hope, from kindly motives of rendering the islanders happy, introduced two unfortunate attendants of western civilization, alcohol and diversity of faiths, nevertheless the natives of The Caroline Islands have retained the greater part of their original primitive beliefs, and recently, under admirable German rule, have perforce abandoned alcohol. Wherefore they are become an exceedingly pleasant and gentle folk to visit; this is especialIy true of the natives of the island of Uap or Yap, the most westerly of the group. Like all other primitive people (it hurts one’s feelings to call them savages or even uncivilized, one is too broad and the other too narrow, they are shy at first, either through mistrust or awe, but, let acquaintance and confidence be once established, and they are good company and benignantly ready to tolerate, even to foster condescendingly, the incomprehensible peculiarities and demented foibles of the white-faced visitor.

The Island of Yap


When I visited The Caroline Islands in 1903, there was but one small steamer, of a German trading company, which, about five times a year, links these little worlds with our great one, and the people which it brings from the uttermost horizon must seem to the natives quite as wonderful as beings from Mars might seem to us; we at least can discern the little point of light from which our Martian visitors might come, and can appreciate the size and distance of another world, but to the man of Yap, whose whole world in length and breadth is but a day’s walk, the little steamboat emerges from an invisible spot, out of the very ocean.

After a whole month of tossing and rolling and endless pitching on the tiny, 500-ton steamer, Oceana, plying between Sydney and The Marshall and Caroline Islands and Hong-Kong, we were within one night’s sail of the little island of Yap, a mere dot on our school maps. Here I intended to remain for nearly two months and await the return trip of the steamer.

The five short stops which the steamer had made at other enchanting, alluring islands had been veritable hors-d’oeuvres to whet the appetite, and while drinking in the beauty of my last sunset from the deck of the copra-laden little steamer, with the sea the colour of liquid rose leaves and the sky shaded off in all tints of yellow, orange, green, blue, mauve, and rose-color, I was thrilled by the thought that I was soon to enjoy again the earthy perfume of damp groves of palm, the pungent odor of rancid coconut oil, and the scent of fires of sappy wood, whereof all combined compose the peculiar atmosphere of the palm-thatched houses of Pacific Islanders.

I expected to be awakened on the following morning by the sudden change from tossing on the open sea to the smooth gliding of the vessel through the waters of the calm lagoon, and with that delicious smell of land and of lush vegetation. Instead of this, however, in the gray of dawn, I was instantly aroused by the clang of the captain’s signal to the engine room, ringing first “stop” and then “full speed astern.” I jumped from my berth to the deck and looked into a thick, impenetrable fog that utterly hemmed us in. From every side an ominous roar of breakers rose above the thump of the engines. The fog lifted; there were the reefs and breakers distant not a hundred and fifty feet dead ahead of us; then down came the fog and off we backed, only to find that the reefs encircled us completely.

Even before the glow on the light and fleecy clouds which formed the ineffable beauty of the sunset had faded, heavy clouds had arisen; by midnight the sky was inky black with no star to guide our course. The captain thus fell a victim to the strong, variable currents, characteristic of these waters, which are indeed but one of the many varieties of thorns which hedge these Sleeping Beauties of the ocean; these had been responsible for our being hurried on much faster than the log could show, and here we were almost on top of the reef, two hours ahead of time, with the land hidden behind an impenetrable veil.

Our situation was like a fever-dream, wherein vague but fatal dangers threaten, and, strain as we may, we are unable to open our eyes. The fog had been like a great eyelid, raised and lowered just long enough to give us one fleeting glimpse, and no more, of fatal peril, while the thunder and hissing swish of the breakers were like the deadly warnings of a rattlesnake before it strikes. Then, of a sudden, again the dense fog lifted completely, and the land seemed verily to rise out of the sea, and we found ourselves directly in front of the very entrance to the harbour with the channel of deepblue water almost running out to meet us. Five minutes more of fog and we should have been pounding helplessly on the reefs with the garden gates impenetrably closed.

I mention this only to give the hint that were the gates wider open and less dangerously ajar, “trade’s unfeeling train” would have long ago wholly overrun these imprisoned little lands and dispossessed the aboriginal “swain.”

Yap, or rather Uéap, with a prolonged broad a, the pronunciation invariably used by the natives, means, in their old language, I was told, “the Land,” which, I suppose, exactly meant to the aborigines the whole world. Uap is, as I have said before, the westernmost of The Caroline group, and lies about nine degrees north of the equator. It is not an atoll, but the result of volcanic upheaval; it is encircled, nevertheless, by coral reefs from three to five miles wide, and has, at about the middle of the southwestern coast, a good harbour in Tomil Bay.

To recall very briefly the general history of this group of islands: They have been known to the civilized world since 1527, when they were discovered by the Portuguese; a hundred and fifty years later they were annexed by Spain and named in honour of Carolus II. At the close of the Spanish-American war the whole group was purchased from Spain by Germany for the sum of $3,300,000, and since then under judicious and enlightened government has steadily improved in productiveness.

The natives of Yap, in number from five to six thousand, are of that perplexing type known generally as Micronesian, which covers a multitude of conjectures. The natives of each island have certain characteristics of form and features which make relationship to natives of other islands or groups of islands a possibility; but, on the other hand, there are such differences in language, in customs, in manner of living, that it is well-nigh impossible to state, with any degree of certainty, what or whence is the parent stock or predominant race. By way of generalization merely, and not as deciding the question, let me say that the people of Yap are of the Malayan type, a light coffee coloured skin; hair black and inclined to wave or curl, not crinkly, like the Melanesian and African; eyes very dark brown, almost black; cheek bones rather high and noses inclined to be hooked, but not prominent. In this last feature they resemble other Polynesians and the Melanesians of New Guinea and The Solomon Islands. They are not as tall nor, on an average, as strongly built as the natives of Samoa, Fiji, or Tahiti. Since the sale of intoxicants and gunpowder has been prohibited, except to the trustworthy chiefs, they are gentle, docile, and lazy; formerly, under the very lax rule of Spain they were exceedingly troublesome and frequently made raids upon the Spanish and German traders, and were continuously at internecine war.

Personal details are generally uninteresting; it therefore suffices to say that I was received most kindly by the little colony of white people who live upon the island, consisting of the resident doctor, then acting as Governor; the postmaster; the manager an American of The Jaluit Trading Company; and four Spanish and German copra traders.

I was most hospitably entertained by Herr Friedlander, one of these copra traders, and, in point of residence, the oldest white trader on the island. With a courteous friendliness for which I shall be always grateful, he invited me to lodge with him at his little copra station in Dulukan, where I could be all the time in close touch with the natives; not only was he always ready to act as my interpreter, but was also at every turn unwearied in his kindness and devotion. I had expected and hoped to share the home life in the houses of the natives, as I had done in Borneo, but the village life and the home life of the people of Yap differ so widely from those of the Borneans that I found it would be better by far to stay in Herr Friedlander’s comfortable little pile-built house and visit the natives, or get them to visit me.

As soon as the Oceana had discharged her cargo and departed on her way to Hong-Kong, we set our sail of matting in Friedlander’s native-built copra barge, which was fairly loaded to the gunwales with my luggage and photographic outfit, and glided through green aisles of mangrove and over the glassy blue and green water of the lagoon to the southern end of the island where lies the delightful, scattered little village of Dulukan.


THE island is divided into districts, more or less defined, which are the remnants of former days when these districts marked the division into hostile tribes; but now, under one government, these separate districts are but little regarded as tribal divisions, and within them the houses are scattered indiscriminately in small groups. Such a thing as a village street or even a road between rows of dwellings nowhere exists; there is, therefore, nothing of what we would call village life, when “all the village train, from labour free, Led up their sports beneath the spreading tree.”

The large “bachelor houses,” to be sure, are adequate meeting places for the men, but the poor neglected women have no common ground where the heart-easing and nutritious gossip of the day may be exchanged. In the coconut groves, which form a broad band along the coast all round the island, each house is surrounded by a neatly-swept clearing, and this little lawn, if that can be called a lawn which is devoid of grass, is brightened here and there by variegated crotons, suggestive of the neatness of the Yap housewife, and affording an attractive playground of chequered shade under the lofty palms.

The houses are always built upon a platform, about two and a half to three feet high, of masses of coralline rock, which look like huge pieces of pumice stone; when first taken from the water this soft lime-like rock lends itself admirably to being smoothed and fashioned with the primitive implements of the natives. The platform is made level on top by filling in with rubble and earth or with a covering of large flat stones. This loosely built foundation is, I suppose, to serve the same purpose as the high piles whereon tropical houses are usually built, namely, to keep the floor, which is also the domestic bed, as high and dry as possible above the level of the ground, which at times is deluged with rain in the usual tropical abundance. Well constructed houses have a broad and long foundation platform, whereon is built a second stage just large enough to be covered by the house; the lower and larger then serves as a broad uncovered veranda round at least three sides of the building. The cornerposts for the framework are embedded in the upper dais of stone so that the occasional typhoons which sweep the island and level even the coconut palms may not carry away the whole structure. Every beam and 1 stanchion is mortised to its fellow and bound with innumerable lashings of twine made from the fibre of coconut husks; not a nail is used and scarcely a peg.



In the little yards or clearings about the houses and on the larger broad platform of stones whereon the houses are built, all that there is of village life goes on; here guests are received and entertained, councils of the wise held, and news passed round. It is decidedly bad manners for any visitor to enter a house, except by special invitation, no matter how intimate a friend he may be. Very often, to add to comfort, upright stones are imbedded in the lower platform to serve as back rests when sessions of the councils happen to be prolonged or the orator prosy. A matting of bamboo grass, or else panels of interwoven fronds of the coconut palm form the side walls of the house; security and secrecy, it must be remembered, are hardly necessary in such small communities, where all are acquaintances, and every article of household use or of luxury is almost as well known to everybody as to the actual owner; stolen goods are not marketable and thefts are quite rare, except, of course, of coconuts that happen to fall unexpectedly and temptingly from a neighbour’s tree.

The interior of the house is neither bright nor cheerful; it is not strange, therefore, that there is but little indoor life. The eaves of the paIm-thatched roof overhang so far that they almost touch the level of the floor and all the light and air come through the doorway, or through one or two panels in the wall which arc occasionally raised like shutters and held by a wooden hook suspended from the rafters.

How any dust at all can collect on a small island in mid-Pacific is a mystery; nevertheless, every article in a Yap house is coated deep with cobwebs and fine dust. This is also the case, however, in the houses of all Pacific Islanders that I have ever visited, and is possibly due to absence of chimneys and abundance of smoke.

There is always in private houses in Yap an inner room or corner, screened off from the common room, where the owners of the house sleep at night. This little sleeping-room is totally dark except for what little light may filter through the walls or under the eaves. There is, of course, no second story to the houses, except a general storage place under the rafters, on top of the cross beams, where any article, not in daily use, such as a leaky canoe, a ragged fish net, a broken spear, etc., is tucked away.



I have groped my way through many a Yap house, of course with the full permission of the owner, rummaging in every dark corner in search of articles of ethnological interest, but only once or twice was my search rewarded. The owners did not seem to object in the slightest degree to my curiosity, and after giving me liberty to poke and pry to my heart’s content, they stood by smiling and good-naturedly answering my questions as to the names and uses of everything. They knew well enough that I should not find what they considered their really valuable possessions, which were probably hidden away in the darkness of the inner chamber, and were sure moreover that whatever I found that I wanted would be paid for by many a stick of “trade” tobacco.



It was near a scattered collection of houses such as these that, on a cloudless afternoon in February, I landed at Friedlander’s charming little copra station. He is married to a native of Guam, a convert to the Roman Catholic faith, but not to the western method of living and style of house; so Friedlander has built for her a home to her liking, bare of all furniture, except mats on the floor, and with an open hearth for cooking and for the comforting circulation of smoke throughout the house, or rather room; here she lives “shut up in measureless content” with her select circle of native friends, together with a sprinkling of elderly relatives, which seems to be an inevitable household element in the Orient.

My host and I, however, put up at his own little house built within the same compound, on piles six feet high and furnished with two comfortable cot-beds, tables, and chairs. The whole house is about twenty feet long by ten wide and constructed as openly as possible, with roof and walls of palm-leaf thatch, for coolness’ sake. This is also his office where he transacts business, such as the purchase of coconuts or the payment for the manufacturing of copra. Copra, by the way, is made by cutting out the meat of ripe coconuts and placing it on screens to dry in the sun. When thus dried, it is exported to Europe, where the oil is expressed and used in the manufacture of fine soaps.

After my luggage had been carried up from the little jetty of rough, spongy, coral blocks to the house, about twenty feet away, and while Friedlander was busy with his group of natives, settling accounts for coconuts delivered during his absence, and with unpacking his boxes of new articles of trade, I strolled forth to take a preliminary survey of my field, provided with a notebook wherein were certain useful phrases in the Yap tongue which I was anxious to put to the test.

The compound about Friedlander’s several houses was quite deserted; everybody had gathered about the master to watch the unpacking and drink in with open ears and gaping mouths every syllable that fell from his lips; and, of course, to ask innumerable irrelevant questions. The declining sun cast long bands of orange light between the gray and mossy-green trunks of the palms, and the sandy earth of the well-swept little compound was rippling with the flickering shadows of the over-arching coconut fronds. There was no song nor twitter of birds; the only sound was the murmur of voices from the crowd within the house, and from a little inlet beside the deserted husking sheds came a rhythmical swish of innumerable coconut husks floating there in an almost solid mass. I turned out of the bamboo wicket gate eager for exploration, and, feeling very much “Like some lone watcher of the skies, When a new planet swims into his ken. ”

I became suddenly aware, however, of the drollest, coffee-coloured, curly-headed, little seven-year-old girl gazing at me with solemn black eyes, awestruck and spellbound. The expression of those wide open eyes, framed all round in long black lashes, was awe, fear, and curiosity mingled; her hands, prettily and delicately shaped, not overly clean, were pressed one upon the other on her little bare chest as if to quell the thumpings of fright, and, whether from astonishment or by nature, her glossy black curls stood up in short spirals all over her head. She was such a typical, little, wild gingerbread baby, that I could not avoid stopping at once to scrutinize her as earnestly as she scrutinized me.

Although she was the only one of her kind in sight, she stood her ground bravely and betrayed nervousness only in the slight digging of her little stubby brown toes in the sand as if she were preparing a good foothold for a precipitate dash. As I looked down upon her, the bunchy little skirt of dried brown grasses and strips of pandanus leaves, her sole garment, gave her the appearance of a little brown imp just rising out of the ground. I thought I detected a slight turning movement in those nervous little feet, so for fear of frightening her into the headlong dash, I looked as benignant, unconcerned, and unsurprised as I could, and turned down the path outside the fence toward the first house in sight.

With no particular objective point I followed one of the wide, native-built paths constructed of sand, finely-broken shells, and decomposed coral, and, inasmuch as they dry off almost instantly after a heavy shower, they are excellently devised for rainy seasons. These footpaths (there is not a cart in the community) extend from one end of the island to the other and branch off toward all the principal settlements; many of the smaller branches are, however, constructed with no great care and consist merely of a narrow paving of rough coral and stone, well adapted for tough bare feet, but not for stiff, slippery, leather soles.



The road past Friedlander’s Station at Dulukan is one of the main thoroughfares and well kept up; down this I turned, with the long vista before me of gray, sunflecked road, overarched by the cloistered fronds and bordered by the slanting stems of coconut palms, with here and there spots of bright color from variegated crotons and dracsenas. I was lost in admiration of the beauty of it all and was still thinking of my first encounter with an island-born elf, when I heard the patter of tiny feet behind me, and turning, saw again the little jungle baby trotting close after me. Curiosity had spurred on her valour to conquer discretion, and now she stood close beside me, and, with a sidelong glance, smiled coyly and inquiringly, showing a row of white baby teeth set rather far apart.

I too smiled in return at the droll little figure, and, not having my Yap Ollendorf at my tongue’s end, I said in English “Come along, little elf, and take a walk.” The spell was broken; I became to her a human being with articulate speech, and not a green-eyed demon. At once there issued forth in a childish little treble a stream of higgledypiggledy words, and then she wistfully waited for a reply. The Yap vernacular failed me, so I simply shook my head despairingly. Then I heard her say distinctly one of my note-book phrases, Mini fit’hing am igur? “What’s your name?” This I could answer and she tried hard to repeat the name I gave; after several ineffectual struggles, she looked up consolingly, and patting her chest with her outspread hand, and nodding her head each time to emphasize it, she reiterated “Pooguroo, Pooguroo, Pooguroo,” clearly intimating that this was her own name.

Here then was all the formal introduction necessary, so we two sauntered down the path together, she keeping up a constant chatter and patter, while pointing toward houses here and there in the open grove of palms. I think she was telling me the name of every house owner in the neighbourhood and the whole of his family history and also his wife’s, but I was restricted to “Oh’s” and “Ah’s” and grunting assents; but all distinction of race or age vanished and here I gained my first little friend, staunch and true, among the people of Yap. I never found out who she was, further than that she was Pooguroo; she was always on hand when anything was astir, and always proved a fearless little friend among the children; but who her parents were, or where her home, I never knew.

Adoption, or rather exchange of children at an early age, is so common that it is a wise father that knows his own child. To the mind of the Yap parents children are not like toothbrushes whereof every one prefers his own; they are more or less public property as soon as they are able to run about from house to house. They cannot without extraordinary exertion fall off the island, and, like little guinea-pigs, they can find food anywhere; their clothing grows by every roadside, and any shelter, or no shelter, is good enough for the night. They cannot starve, there are no wild beasts or snakes to harm them, and should they tear their clothes, nature mends them, leaving only a scar to show the patch; what matters it if they sleep under the high, star-powdered ceiling of their foster mother’s nursery, or curled up on mats beneath their father’s thatch?

There is no implication here that parents are not fond of their children; on the contrary, they love them so much that they see their own children in all children. It is the ease of life and its surroundings which have atrophied the emotion of parental love. Has not “too light winning made the prize light?” When a father has merely to say to his wife and children “Go out and shake your breakfast off the trees” or, “Go to the thicket and gather your clothes,” to him the struggle for existence is meaningless, and, without a struggle, the prizes of life, which include a wife and family, are held in light esteem. Parental love, by being extended to all children, becomes diluted and shallow.

Is it not here then, in an untutored tropic island, that the realization is to be found of the Spartan ideal? Somebody’s children are always about the houses and to the fore in all excitements, and never did I see them roughly handled or harshly treated. As soon as they are old enough they must win their own way, and, if boys, at a very early age, they make the pabai or faiIu, the man’s house, their home by night and day, sharing the cooked food of their elders, or living on raw coconuts, and chewing betel incessantly.


ONE of the most noteworthy features of Yap life are the large houses known as failu, when situated on the coast, and pabai, when built inland beyond the belt of coconut groves. These houses are found in all Yap villages, and pertain exclusively to the men, be they married or single; herein councils are held, and the affairs of the community are discussed, free from all intervention of women; and here, too, men and boys entertain themselves with song and dance, in which, under the plea that it would not be decorous for women to join, a desire may be detected to escape feminine criticism. A failu or pabai is frequently years in building; the men do not wait, however for its final completion and ceremonial opening before occupying it, but often make it their home even should no more than the framework and roof be finished.



Every post, every beam is selected with extremest care, so that all its natural curves and angles may be used without further shaping. No nails, and, indeed, very few pegs are used to hold the beams together; each beam is attached to another by mortising, and then literally thousands of yards of cord, made from the fibre of coconut husks, are used to bind the joints. The lashings of this brown kaya cord furnish excellent opportunities for ornamentation; wherefore, with tropical lavishness and Oriental contempt for the expenditure of time, the main posts, for four or five feet below the cross beams, are often bound with cords interlaced into beautiful basket patterns and complicated knots; where the slanting supports of the thatched roof meet the side walls there is a continuous, graceful band of interwoven cords, where each knot has its own peculiar designation and invariable position.



When, after years of fitful labor, one of these clubhouses is finally complete, a feast is spread and dances are performed in front of the structure, to which all, including even the women, for the once, are invited; the house is then and there given a name, and new fire is started in the fireplace by means of the fire drill, the most primitive method of obtaining fire known in Yap.

Thereafter this failu or pabai belongs exclusively to the men, and no women, with but one exception, dare set foot within its precincts.

During the fishing season every fisherman, while plying his craft, lies under a most strict taboo. Wherefore, one very important use of the failu, or “house on the shore,” possibly its primitive cause, is to provide a place of seclusion for the tabooed fishermen during their intervals of rest. After three or four days and nights of hard work in boats on the open sea outside the lagoon, the fishermen return to the failu to distribute their haul of fish and to repair damages to their boats and nets. Whether the sea has been calm or stormy, they are always an exhausted crew; their meat and drink have consisted almost exclusively of coconuts, and their quarters have been extremely cramped in the long, narrow, outrigger canoes. Not for these poor wretches, however, are the refreshing comforts of home when, weary and worn, they return to recuperate; an inexorable, rigorous taboo enshrouds them until the last hour of the six or eight weeks of the fishing season. During their brief seasons of needful rest, not a fishermen dare leave the failu or, under any pretext whatsoever, visit his own house; he must not so much as look on the face of woman (with one exception) be she his own, or another’s, mother, wife or daughter.

If the heedless fisherman steal but a glance, flying fish will infallibly bore out his eyes at night. They may not even join in song or dance with the other men of the failu in the evening, but must keep strictly and silently apart; nor may their stay-at-home companions mingle with them; and, worst of all, until the fishing season is over and past, they can have none of a fisherman’s prerogative of endlessly expatiating on the unprecedented size and weight of the fish that they have missed, tantum religio potuit suadere malorum.

It is truly impressive to see large fishing canoes come in after a cruise; they carry twenty or more men, and have often experienced extremely rough weather for craft which, according to our ideas, are so unwieldy, and unstable. In their management they can be paralleled only by the vessel provided by the “Bellman” in the “Hunting of the Snark,” where at times it was not at all out of the ordinary for the bow to get mixed up with the rudder. Inasmuch as the whole balance of the boat depends upon the outrigger, it would never do, of course, to have the large, heavy sail, bearing the weight of the wind, on the opposite side of the boat; consequently, when sailing up in the wind, where tacking is necessary, instead of putting about or jibing, the crew assemble and, lifting the mast with all the rigging, carry it bodily from the bow to the stern, where it is stepped anew; the stern then becomes the bow, and the man at the helm has to scramble quickly to the other end of the boat to find out which way he is going. Of course, such a liberty never can be taken with the mast and rigging under any other than a very mild breeze; consequently, in rough weather there is nothing for it but to keep on one course until the wind abates, or else take in all sail and drift.

Herein lies one of the causes which accounts, I think, for the mixture of inhabitants throughout Polynesia and Micronesia; canoes full of helpless fishermen have been known to drift from The Gilbert and Marshall Islands a thousand miles or more; from the very centre of The Carolines down to the northern coast of New Guinea and The Solomons. Is it any wonder then that the return of a canoe full of friends, fathers, and husbands, who, for the common good, have ventured forth on the vasty deep, far beyond the sight of their little world, should be hailed, as it always is by the simple islanders, with emotions almost akin to awe? Even to us it seems little short of a miracle, when we reflect that this return is effected without compass or sextant. It is not strange, therefore, that the lives of these venturers should be hedged about with peculiar laws and mysterious restrictions, as if they were beings apart from the common herd, and superior.

A canoe is usually sighted long before it turns into the entrance to the lagoon, and then the members of the failu stand or squat on the stone platform at the seaward end of the house and quietly watch the slow approach of their daring comrades. When they are within a half a mile or so of the shore where the water is shoal and thickly sown with many protruding treacherous boulders, the remains of ancient fish-weirs, the mast with its sail of matting is unstepped and stowed; the canoe is then guided on its tortuous way with poles and paddles. The approach is slow and silent; there is no shouting, no outward excitement; it has all the solemnity of a religious ceremony; the waiting crowd on the shore is hushed or converses in subdued whispers; the great, unwieldy canoe moves slowly onward with all the dignity of a majestic ocean liner coming into port. As soon as the bow touches the shore, the fishermen at once disembark and silently march up into the failu, leaving two members of the crew to protect with matting the painted figureheads of conventionalized frigate birds, at the bow and stem; and, after unloading the fish, to take the canoe to its mooring nearby.



I once went into a failu immediately after the fishermen had returned; the whole interior aspect of the house was changed; more than two-thirds of the floor was partitioned off into little stalls or pens made of matting of green coconut fronds with the leaves interwoven. The sides of the little pens were just high enough to permit the occupants when sitting down to look over and see what was going on; if they wished to be unseen, they had only to lie down. Possibly, these partitions are not so much for seclusion as to prevent any one from stepping over the legs of the sleeping fishermen, a terribly ill-omened accident, and sure to bring misfortune on the sleeper.

The other members of the failu were gathered together at the inland end of the house, and were either at their usual trifling occupations, or mending fine cast-nets, or fashioning from a section of bamboo a box for powdered lime, that indispensable adjunct to betel chewing; some young dandies, or oofoof , as they are termed, were grouped about a little heap of glowing embers, which they had raked together for cheerfulness’ sake, and, also, to save the expense of innumerable matches for their cigarettes; they were humming in unison one of their unintelligible and unmusical songs. It was probably either etiquette or taboo, but no one seemed to be paying any attention to the fishermen, who seemed to be, in fact, absolutely ignored ever since their arrival. These poor, tired men were each installed, and the whole floor looked like a gigantic wasp’s nest, with every cell-cap off, and demure grubs just sticking their heads out. After all their hard, self-sacrificing work at sea to provide food for the community, they are literally imprisoned till the time arrives for them to sail again; they are not allowed to go further inland than the inland side of the house, and if their mothers, wives, or daughters bring any gift, or wish to talk to them, the women must stand down near the shore, with their backs turned toward the house; then the men may go out and speak to them, or, with their backs turned to them, receive what has been brought, and return at once to their prison.

The fish are displayed on the stone platform in front of the house, or on stands of bamboo or palm, and are then apportioned to the families of the fishermen, or to purchasers from the district. Payment is made in shell money or in the stone money-wheels peculiar to Yap. A feature of this barter, which speaks much for the ingrained honesty of these people, is that the money is deposited on the ground near the failu, possibly several days before the fishermen return; no one ever attempts to steal it, or lay false claim to it; there it remains, untouched and safe, until the owner receives the fish. The strings of pearl-shell money and the stone wheels received in payment for the fish, become the property of the failu, and are expended for such purposes only as will benefit the whole house, namely, the purchase of new canoes, rigging, nets, etc., or else reserved to pay the heavy indemnity which must invariably be paid for the theft of a new mistress, or mispil.

The custom of having one mistress common to all the members of the failu, is merely a form of polyandry, which reveals in a striking degree a noteworthy characteristic of the men of Yap, namely, a complete freedom from the emotion of jealousy. In every failu and pabai there lives a young woman, or sometimes two young women, who are the companions without preference to all the men of the house; I was assured repeatedly, moreover, that this possession of a wife in common never awakens any jealous animosity among themselves in the breasts of the numerous husbands. A mispil must always be stolen by force or cunning, from a district at some distance from that wherein her captors reside. After she has been fairly, or unfairly, captured and installed in her new home, she loses no shade of respect among her own people; on the contrary, have not her beauty and her worth received the highest proof of her exalted perfection, in the devotion, not of one, but of a whole community of lovers ? Unlike a prophet, it is in her own country and among her own kith and kin that she is held in honour. But in the community where she is an alien, her social rank is gone. None of the matrons in the district of her failu, who live at home with their husbands and children, will have any social intercourse with her. By the men, whether in her failu or out of it, the mispil is invariably treated with every consideration and respect; no unseemly actions may take place in her presence, and all coarse language is scrupulously avoided when she is within hearing; nevertheless, owing to her station, she is permitted to hear and see the songs and dances, from which other women are barred.

If, by chance, a preference of one lover over another become observable, no blame whatever is attached to her, but the favourite is quietly told that, in the opinion of the whole house, he must retire, or possibly leave the failu for a while and live with friends in another district.

The mispil’s food, and her luxuries, such, as tobacco and betel nut, are supplied by the men, and she is never required to work in the taro fields, as are the wives and daughters of the district. At quite a distance, in the bush behind the failu, a little house is built for her sole use when she wishes to be secluded; here she occupies her time in making new skirts for herself of leaves, and during her sojourn in her little home, known as tapal, the men sedulously place her food near by, but dare not so much as take one step within the enclosure around her house.

The men of the failu treat their mispils with far more respect and devotion than is generally shown by the men outside to the wives of their own household. The mispils are absolutely faithful to the men of their failu or pabai, regarding themselves as unquestionable property, having been sought and captured at the risk of men’s lives, and paid for withal in costly pieces of stone money.

They are by no means kept as prisoners; as soon as the excitement over their capture has abated in their own village, they are at full liberty to return home and visit their family and friends, and they always return willingly and voluntarily to the failu.

In ancient times, which were probably no further removed than the last generation, history in these islands does not usually date much further back than the memory of the oldest inhabitant, when there were many districts at constant war with each other and the high-born nobles were divided into two tribes, the ulunpagel and the bultreh-e-pilun, the capture of a mispil was always accompanied by bloodshed and enduring feuds; but, nowadays, since abstinence from alcohol has cooled their brains, and they all regard themselves as really one people (with the exception of the tribe of slaves known as Pimlingal), the seizure of a young girl to fill the office of mispil is reduced to little more than a commonplace burglary; nay, it is almost always furtively prearranged with the chief of the district, inasmuch as it is to him that the parents appeal for redress. If certain captors, or shall we say burglars, have already made choice of a victim from his district as their future mispil, it might be difficult, if not impossible, for him to prevent them from carrying out their design, but, inasmuch as he is fully assured that they are prepared to pay a good round sum in shell money and stone money by way of indemnity, he contrives, nowadays, by means of this bribe to salve the wounds of a disrupted family and dispel all thoughts of a bloody retaliation. Nevertheless, the whole proceeding is still carried out with the greatest possible secrecy and stealth.

With Friedlander’s help, as interpreter, I elicited from an intelligent young fellow named Gamiau, the following account of the capture of Lemet, the mispil of Dulukan. Gamiau, the leader of the party, was a quiet, serious, young fellow, about eighteen or twenty years old; foremost in dance and song, and, consequently, admired by his companions for the fertility of his poetic and acrobatic resources. He was not tall, but well built, with a skin as smooth as velvet, which seemed to stretch tightly over the muscles underneath like a brown kid glove. He was sitting cross-legged on the floor of our little house one evening when no one else was present, and, taking intermittent puffs at his cigarette of “Nigger-head” tobacco rolled in a fragment of palm-leaf, gave us this somewhat disjointed account of the theft of a mispil.

“Lemet, our mispil, is a daughter of Pagel of Libenau, who is a brother of the chief of Bugol in the Rul district. We had not decided upon her or any other girl before we started out, but we had heard that the girls of Bugol were all pretty.”



“About twenty of us from the failu of Dulukan stocked a canoe with all sorts of trade and set out for Bugol; we knew that the chief there would help us if we took plenty of presents to him, so we put in a good stock of reng [a species of turmeric used as an ornamental dye], several strings of flat pearl shells, and one large and very high priced fei [stone money]. When we reached Bugol, we separated, so that no one should suspect that we were after a girl, and, having given our presents to the chief, we waited there two months and a half enjoying ourselves, but all the time on a furtive look out for a mispil for our failu, but we could not make a choice.

Then word came to us that we had better go to Rul, a short distance away, so that no one would suspect our plans; in this place we waited eighteen days until word came again to us from the chief of Bugol that he had selected a girl for us, and we were to move across the bay to Tomil, and build a house in the mangroves by the shore and wait till his messengers came. So we went, and, after a night and a day, two Bugol men came. Early, early in the morning, before daylight, six of us and the two Bugol men paddled very noiselessly over to Libenau. We left the canoe and four of our men in it near the shore, and I, Gramiau, and Fatufal and the Bugol men went ashore. Without speaking a word, the Bugols led us through the underbrush and finally pointed out the house, and whispered that we would find the girl asleep all by herself in a little hut at the end of her father’s house. We crept up very, very softly, peeped in, and there we saw her, sound asleep, stretched out on her mat with nothing over her. Then we jumped in suddenly and one of us held her arms, and the other kept his hand tight over her mouth so that she could not cry out, and, just as she was, we carried her back to the canoe and paddled quickly down to Aff where the other men were waiting. When we got there, one of us stole a skirt from a house nearby, for she had no clothes. On the way home we stopped at Rul and gave two beautiful shells to the Chief, because Rul is really the head of the whole district. The girl cried a little, and seemed very sad while she was in the canoe, but now, after two months, she is as happy as can be and has never once attempted to leave us.”

Haec fabula docet that the example set by young Lochinvar has still its genial modifications in Yap, and that, although the Bugol bride may not be so compliant as the Netherby, yet the stealing of a mispil is not now an exploit wholly devoid of romance, nor of a spice of danger. A haunting suspicion will obtrude, however, that the girl had been privately “coached” by the chief, and that her family had been paid her equivalent in several good shells and were discreet enough to keep out of the way, and make the course of love run as smooth as possible. Be it added that the members of the failu who venture on these expeditions are always thereafter admired as heroes.

In dress the mispil is in no wise distinguished from other women, except by tattoo marks on her hands and legs. In this tattooing there seems to be, however, no set pattern, and the designs are not so elaborate as lasting, and, since it is not the custom for any other women to be thus ornamented, I found it occasionally possible to decipher on hands and legs of highly respectable, albeit wrinkled and shrivelled, old grandmothers, a former chapter in their history when to them all the world was young and they were the cynosure of every eye in a failu. This is explained by the fact that should a mispil prove enceinte, the duty devolves on one of the men of the failu to take her as his wife, build a house for her, and bring up his own separate family. Here again, the remarkable scheme of social relations and of morality, by which these people live, renders such a compulsory marriage perfectly adjustable and by no means a disgrace. The wife of my excellent friend, Lian, the Chief of Dulukan, showed the ineffaceable and unmistakable telltale tattoo on her hands and legs, and both he and she held their social heads very high in the community.

Verily, it does seem that even in austere eyes this feature of the failu loses half its immorality in losing all its grossness.


THERE is apparently no formal initiation into a failu; when very young the boys wander in and out of it continually; and, if they please, may even sleep there; thus they gradually glide into an accepted fellowship, and, when about ten or eleven years old, may join the men as associates in the adult dances. At about this same age the young boys are known as petir, and may wear but one loin-cloth (or none at all). The next promotion is two loin-cloths, the second longer than the first little scrap, and more elaborately interlaced; they are now known as pagul. The adult man is called pumawn, and wears, first, a loin-cloth; then over this a long rope of thin strips of pandanus leaves and grasses known as kavurr; next, to add a touch of color, a bunch of the same material, stained red, is tucked in at the side and so looped that it hangs down in front over the loin-cloth.



The badge of a freeman, distinguishing him at once from a slave, is an ornamental comb in the knot of hair on the top of his head. One of the Ulun-pagel, the aristocratic tribe, assured me in the most emphatic terms that he would instantly attempt to kill a Pimlingai or “slave” should he meet one wearing such a comb. This comb, albeit of no great intrinsic value, is, therefore, the essential feature of male attire. It is made merely of fifteen or twenty narrow strips of bamboo, about eight inches long, sharpened at one end, with shorter, slightly wedge-shaped pieces inserted between each strip four or five inches from the sharpened ends, whereby the teeth of the comb are kept apart; the upper ends are now bound together with ornamental lashings of coconut fibre. A simple form, but nevertheless deemed foppishly elegant, is that wherein the strips of bamboo are fastened together with a peg run through at about the middle; the strips are then slid past each other like the ribs of a fan; these broad, unpointed, upper ends lend themselves admirably to such decoration as the insertion of bright leaves of croton, tufts of cotton, strips of pandanus, etc.

In one of my first attempts at photographing with a cinematograph camera, many yards of the narrow film, which, when undeveloped looks like stiff yellow ribbon, were spoiled; with exasperation, and, I fear, imprecations, I cut this worthless film ruthlessly from the little sprocket wheels which carry it through the camera, and tossed it away. No princely gift could i have devised which would have been received with more exuberant delight than these worthless strips of film; to Yap eyes they happened to be just of the most fascinating shade of yellow, and to the Yap nostril they possessed a peculiar and ravishing perfume; and as a supreme grace they vibrated like serpents when inserted in combs and caught by the breeze; in a trice every head was wreathed with coils like Medusa’s and every face was radiant with smiles.

Other male ornaments consist of earrings, necklaces, bracelets, and armlets. Mutilations of nose or of lips are not in fashion; earlobes, however, being appendages not ornamental and by no means useful, are always, the world over, responsive to improvement at the behest of beauty. They are not neglected in Yap. Both boys and girls have the earlobes pierced and stretched at an early age, at about the tenth or twelfth year, but this mutilation is never stretched to the extent that it is in the island of But (in the central Carolines), nor as it is in Borneo, where the lobe is so elongated that it becomes a mere loop of skin drooping below the shoulders.

The Yap men and women are satisfied with a simple hole through the lobe, about three-fourths of an inch in diameter, just about large enough for the insertion of bright leaves or flowers or a tuft of cotton. After an incision is made with a piece of sharpened coconut shell, a roll of leaves of a plant, which they call maluek, is at once inserted. This leaf, and this leaf only, must be used; to it is ascribed peculiar properties both of stretching and healing; it must be first warmed over the fire, then soaked and softened in coconut oil, rolled up tightly and pushed through the wound. As soon as this plug becomes loose, it is renewed, and an additional leaf added until the hole is of sufficient size and is healed. The boys grin and bear the suffering without any protection for their poor swollen and inflamed ears, which, after the fourth or fifth day, certainly look exceedingly painful; but the girls are allowed to wear protectors made of the halves of a coconut shell, held in place by strings attached to the upper edges, passing over the head, and strings from the lower edges, tied under the chin. These shells are stained a bright yellow with a turmeric, already mentioned, known as reng.

Another and a smaller hole, just about large enough for the stem of a flower is often made in the rim of the ear a little above the larger hole in the lobe; this is designed for no particular ornament, but merely supplements the larger one when the latter is completely filled with earrings and bouquets; a white and yellow flower of Frangipanni, or the spray of a delicate little orchid, growing on coconut trees, greatly enhances the charm when waving above red and green crotons and a pendant of pink shell. Women do not in general affect manufactured earrings; they cling more to natural effects of leaves and flowers. The men’s ear ornaments consist of short loops of small glass beads, whereto is attached a piece of pink or white shell usually cut in a triangular shape, with each edge about an inch in length; this is pendant from the loop of beads about three inches below the ear. The triangular shape is, in general, obligatory, inasmuch as the shell from which it is out has this one sole patch of rosy pink near the umbo. This shell is exceedingly rare on the shores of Hap; consequently, these pink pendants are highly valued and owned only by the wealthy families who part with them reluctantly, and only at an exorbitant price.

Other pendants of less value are made from any fine white shell, or of tortoise-shell; any man may wear these who has patience enough to scrape the shells to the proper shape. Still another variety of ear ornament is a piece of thin tortoise-shell, about a third of an inch wide, bent into the shape of a U; this is hooked in the lobe of the ear, and from the outer open ends are suspended little strings of beads. In default of other ornament the men will insert anything with gay colors; my cinematograph film, whenever I happened to discard it, was sure to be seen for the next two or three days either fluttering from combs or passed through loops and coiled about the ears.

Ordinary necklaces, worn by all the common folk, are made of thin discs of coconut shell or tortoise-shell, about a quarter of an inch in diameter, and strung closely and tightly together, interspersed at intervals with similar discs of white shell, so that they make a flexible cord which coils like a collar rather tightly about the neck.



One of the most highly prized possessions of the men is, however, a necklace of beads made of the same rose-coloured shell whereof they make their ear pendants. In each shell of superior quality there is of the pink or red portion only enough to make one good bead about an inch and a half long by half an inch wide and an eighth of an inch thick; such a bead is usually strung in the middle of the necklace among others graded off from it in size, on both sides, merging into oblong pieces about half an inch long, of the same breadth and thickness as the bead in the centre; then, finally, follow discs about one sixteenth of an inch thick.

One day, a chief, named Inifel, with a suite of followers from his district of Magachpa, at the northern end of the island, paid us a visit; for an old man, his features bore as treacherous and malevolent a stamp as ever I saw; he scowled at everything and everybody from under his shaggy grizzled eyebrows, with a piercing gleam at once suspicious and sinister; he was magnificent in adornment, however, with a thauei, a red-shell necklace, of surpassing splendour, composed throughout of exquisite red shell beads of the very largest size, except where, at intervals of every seven or eight red beads, there followed one of pure white. So satanic were his looks that I did not dare even to hint at the purchase of so gorgeous a prize, lest he should propose my soul, or my shadow, by some devilish contract, as the price. These strings of shell beads are usually about three feet long, and hang far down on the chest. Beyond question they are exceedingly beautiful, especially when set off by the dark, burnished livery of a tawny skin.



A report of these red shell ornaments had reached me by rumour before I came to Yap, and I had been assured that it was utterly impossible to buy one; hence it was, naturally of course, the one thing I set my heart on possessing; wherefore I caused it to be widely known that I was prepared to pay a good round price for a red necklace, and I begged old Ronoboi, one of my first acquaintances among the nobility, not only a Chief, but also a powerful soothsayer, or mach-mach, to strain every nerve to procure one for me. He shook his grave head dubiously, saying he would try, but had no hope whatever of success. Later, I saw some thaueis that were truly excellent, but the owners would not listen to a syllable of sale, and seemed even to doubt that a white man existed with wealth enough to purchase a perfect one.

After several rebuffs in my attempts to buy these enviable “jewels” from wearers who looked otherwise impecunious enough, I found out that these necklaces were actually loaned, at interest, and were not the disposable property of the wearer, who, for work or services performed, was privileged to strut about, thus adorned, for a certain number of days, with that delicious glow around the heart, whether civilised or savage, which the consciousness of being well-dressed invariably bestows. In fact, the thauei, in Yap, is a medium of exchange, and is not often parted with outright, but loaned out; the interest on the loan is to be paid for in labour. After three weeks of eager and zealous endeavour, I succeeded at last in obtaining a very inferior string of merely round discs, but I had to pay for it the staggering sum of thirty marks ($7.50); when the owner delivered it to me, he exclaimed, “There now, you have the price of a murder; offer that to a man and tell him whom you want killed, and it’s done!” Not until the very day I left the island did I get a really fine thauei; after almost tearful pleadings on my part, old Ronoboi, possibly by a good deal of hook and probably by a good deal more crook, persuaded one of his subjects and eke believers in the awful mysteries of mack-mack, to part with a prized heirloom, which the dear old chief and wizard solemnly and secretly brought to me. I gave him a double handful of silver mark pieces; this seemed to hush effectually the “still, small voice;” furthermore, can a king do wrong? and the necklace is mine!

The only other ornaments that the men wear are armlets and bracelets of shell or of tortoise-shell. These are made simply by cutting a narrow section from the base of one of the large conical seashells and breaking out all the inner whorls; the ring thus formed is then slipped over the arm and worn above the elbow or wrist. I noticed none that was carved or decorated; they were merely smoothed and polished. The tortoise-shell bracelets are plain, broad bands which, after softening in hot water, are bent around the wrists, where they fit tightly, leaving the ends about three fourths of an inch apart, so that they may be sprung off the arm, and need not be slipped over the hand. These tortoiseshell ornaments are usually engraved with a few parallel lines running round them.

One peculiar shell bracelet, much affected by old men, is made of a large, white conical sea-shell, whereof the base and all the interior spirals have been cut away; this is worn like a cuff on the wrist with the big end upward. It seems incredible that they can get their hands through so small an opening, but in some way they do squeeze them through. One of my particular friends, Fatumak by name, of whom I shall speak later, told me that, once upon a time, a man from Goror, at the southernmost point of the island, tried to go up to the land of departed spirits, Falraman, but he never reached his destination, although he saw many marvelous things, and brought back to the Chiefs extraordinary novelties; among them, these shell cuffs, and chickens.


THAT I might obtain permanent records of their songs and incantations, I carried with me a large-sized phonograph, with all needful appliances. With much relish I anticipated the consternation of the natives when they saw and heard a box whence issued a living human voice and music played by all sorts of instruments.

In order to introduce them to it with due paralysing effect, I made a selection of band music and several songs in English; with these I intended to charm them before requesting them to speak or sing into that embarrassing, expressionless metal horn. Experience had taught me, however, the impossibility of foretelling the fashion in which untutored minds will accept such miracles, and I was not altogether unprepared to have their bewilderment find expression in a shower of well-directed coconuts at the first bars of “Lead kindly light” or other soothing, peaceful hymns. But what was my unexpected amazement and infinite chagrin, when the audience I had gathered displayed not the faintest interest in the performance beyond the sight of the revolution of the little wax cylinder. A living, human voice, singing a sweet English love-song, and issuing from a brass horn attached to a machine, was, to them, not half as awesome as the whirling wheels and the buzz of clock-work; some of the audience actually turned away in indifference, if not in disgust, and went off to resume their work of husking coconuts.

Completely crestfallen, I ventured to ask one man when the tune was finished what he thought of it; “An all right sort of tom-tom” was his careless and patronizing reply. (Tom-tom is an adopted word which they apply to cheap musical boxes, in fact to any variety of musical instrument, introduced many years ago by whalers and copra traders.) Friedlander himself was astounded at their mortifying indifference, and suggested very justly that it was probably because the words meant nothing to them, and that the phonograph was to them only another form of hurdy-gurdy. A human voice uttering incomprehensible sounds had to them no more meaning than the beating of a tin pan.

Cast down, but not utterly discouraged, I tried a second song by a melodious female voice, but this fell just as absolutely flat as the former. As a final and desperate resource, I put on a blank roll and the recording needle, and then induced one of the youths to speak a few native words into the horn, and’ immediately ground off a reproduction of his very words.

The effect was magical! The audience forgot to breathe in awed silence! Their eyes dilated! Their jaws fell! And they began repeating after the instrument the words of their very own language, in the boy’s very own voice, now issuing from the bottom of the horn! Was the boy himself imprisoned there? For five or six seconds after the voice ceased, they remained silent, looking from one to another, and then they burst into peals and peals of screaming laughter, clamourously and vehemently imploring me to repeat it.

Of course I complied. The coconut huskers dropped their work and hurried back helter-skelter, to hear a little machine that after only a minute’s acquaintance could talk as well as they could themselves! The conquest was complete! Thereafter I had no difficulty whatsoever in finding volunteers to sing or repeat set speeches. The miracle of a “tom-tom that talked and sung” was assured, and its success unbounded!


At my first and second exhibition men alone happened to be present. A request then came to me from the women, through Friedlander’s wife, that I should give them an exhibition, to which, as they were shy, no men should be admitted. Accordingly, kindhearted Friedlander had one of his copra storehouses cleared, it was a little house on low piles, with walls and floor of bamboo slats, about twenty feet long and ten feet wide. At one end I set up my phonograph, and the audience duly gathered in bunches and bundles, I use the words advisedly, so enormous and expansive are the skirts of dried grasses and leaves. The hall was filled to overflowing. But in a house of bamboo the walls and floor have many a chink, and I think I may truly say there was no single crevice without its outside ear.

I tried the same experiment with the women as with the men, and first of all I gave them an English song; and precisely the same result followed; the performance emphatically bored them, and they conversed with each, other and pointed to the different parts of the machine as if the entertainment was yet to begin. But the native song, that I gave them next, awed them into silence in a trice; with dilated eyes they scrutinised me wonderingly, before, behind and on every side, to see that there was no living man concealed who was the real singer. The silence, however, lasted but a minute, and was then broken by shouts of delighted laughter, and thereupon followed such a commotion and eager shifting of places to get a nearer view of the mystery, that I really expected every minute that the whole audience, myself included, would crash through the frail floor to the ground below.

The rows of jet black teeth on a broad grin from ear to ear, seemed to darken the room. During the intermission, while I was putting on another record, cigarettes burned hard and fast to brace up the nerves for another thrill. After two or three men’s songs, I asked for a song from the women; they were reluctant and very shy, but finally they induced two young girls to sing a duet, which they said is wont to be sung at funerals, setting forth the good qualities of the deceased and the intense grief of the survivors. It must have been the identical tune that the original “old cow died on,” so monotonous, so lugubrious, so discordant was it. Evidently the debutantes had not assisted at many funerals; they frequently made awkward pauses and looked around despairingly until kind friends prompted them loudly. It did not turn out to be a good record, but it served to interest the women intensely, and render them anxious to hear their own voices as others hear them.


Thereafter the fame of the tom-tom-Ni-non, the “talking tom-tom,” spread all over the island. I think that eventually I must have been visited by every human being in Yap, from babies in arms to hoary age, everything that could creep, walk, or hobble. From far and near there came crowds so insistent that almost every day I had to give a session in the morning for the men, and a select session for the women in the afternoon, but I no longer crowded them into the little copra house; open air exhibitions were perfectly satisfactory.

It was intensely interesting to watch their expression as they recognised the words of a familiar song, or speech, and knew the speaker’s voice. There was one particular chant, sung for me by three men from the adjacent failu, which Lian, the chief, cautioned me not to play for the women; it was quite as well they should not hear it. Pleased with this unexpected display of refinement, I assured him at once that I would do my best to comply with his request. At that early stage of my knowledge of their song-language the songs were all so much alike, and the tunes so completely indistinguishable one from another, that one afternoon, in my innocency, before I was aware, the forbidden song was droning away on the phonograph, and l was awakened to my oversight by the “nods and becks and wreathed smiles” of the women before me; but I had gone too far to retreat. I glanced up and saw Lian at a little distance off, standing in the doorway of our house. He was both smiling and scowling, but from his position at one side he was watching keenly the women’s faces while they were listening to that mysterious song. There were also a few other men standing further off behind the rows of women who were sitting cross-legged on the ground.

The women’s eyes danced with merriment and, as soon as the song was recognized, a suppressed giggle went round the audience and they turned to one another with up-lifted brows and wide open eyes, with a sort of “did-you-ever?, no-I-never” expression; it evidently diverted them, so I submitted to fate. Lian still stood watching, and I saw his lips repeating each, word; then came several bars of the song which gave forth nothing but a low humming, with plaintive cadences. The women all cast their eyes on the ground, laughing, but ashamed to laugh, Lian gave a foolish, sickly smile and, shaking his head weakly, retreated into the obscurity of the house; the men in the background could not suppress two or three loud guffaws, and then, stooping down to hide their embarrassment, busied themselves at once with splitting the husks of some coconuts.



I had, indeed, quite innocently proved a marplot, and suffered the women to hear one of the secret songs of the failu. The combined questioning of Friedlander and myself failed to elicit its meaning, or why the men should have been so particularly anxious to keep it from the women’s ears. We never could get any further explanation than that it was “merely one of the songs sung only in the failu.”

An odd feature of all their songs and incantations is that they are not in the modern Yap language at all, nor in a language used by the people in any other island. They say it is the primitive language of Palalagab, the ancient name of Yap, and they use these words when they compose a new song. It is, however, impossible to extract any meaning, or, rather, any literal meaning out of these mere strings of words; they translated them for us into modern Yap, but this yielded merely a collection of what seemed to be absolutely disconnected and irrelevant statements. They usually began with an appeal for attention, such as “Hear what we have been doing;” “Listen to what we are saying,” or “Open your ears to hear;” then follow immediately one after another, such sentences as “Brave men, all the same as devils, make a mach-mach for good weather at sea”, ”When we go in a canoe and see a bird, we say we are near to land, when we see a fish, we say we are near to land”, ”Listen to what we young boys dreamt about”, ”We all got in a canoe;” etc.

These are the sentences of a song which Tomak, a high-class man, sang into the phonograph and then told us proudly that he himself composed it, but he could give us no more than the above sentences translated into modern Yap, and he was unable to say what meaning he intended to convey. This same incomprehensible language is, of course, a heaven-sent boon to the mach-mach men; luckily nobody, not even themselves, can tell what they are talking about.

Powerful spells may be purchased and learned from the mach-mach men for large sums; at times they are heirlooms and pass on from father to son or younger brother. Since they must all be transmitted by word of mouth, is it surprising that they should become at last mere nondescript jargon? It is not, however, beyond possibility that the wizards understand these random sentiments and disjointed sentences; they are experts at reading between lines, and what to us is the merest platitude, becomes in their ears a lyric overflowing with sentiment. Nay, is it not even so with the Japanese whom we have lately learned to admire in the arts of peace as well as of war, and especially in Painting, Poetry’s twin sister? There flits across my memory the following Japanese “Poem” consisting of these three lines and no more :

“At the time of being far away! If the moon were a looking-glass! Delightful!”

To a Japanese this is all sufficient to conjure up a picture of two lovers sundered by cruel fate, each happy in the thought that both are gazing at the same moon and longing for the moon’s mirror to reflect an image of the beloved face, while the “Delightful” at the close has all the convincing emphasis of the “Assuredly” in the Koran.



Island of Stone Money. Yap of the Carolines

by William Henry Furness, 1910

get it at Amazon.com

Money. The Unauthorised Biography – Felix Martin.

Simple and intuitive though it may be, there is a drawback to the conventional theory of money. It is entirely false.

Not a single researcher has been able to find a society, historical or contemporary, that regularly conducted its trade by barter.

‘For a century or more, the “civilized” world regarded as a manifestation of its wealth, metal dug from deep in the ground, refined at great labor, and transported great distances to be buried again in elaborate vaults deep under the ground. Is the one practice really more rational than the other?’ Milton Friedman

So if it is so obvious that the conventional theory of money is wrong, why has such a distinguished canon of economists and philosophers believed it? And why does today’s economics profession by and large persist in using the fundamental ideas of this tradition as the building blocks of modern economic thinking?

What is money, and how does it work?

The conventional answer is that people once used sugar in the West Indies, tobacco in Virginia, and dried cod in Newfoundland, and that today’s financial universe evolved from barter.

Unfortunately, there is a problem with this story. It’s wrong. And not just wrong, but dangerous. Money: the Unauthorised Biography unfolds a panoramic secret history and explains the truth about money: what it is, where it comes from, and how it works.

Drawing on stories from throughout human history and around the globe, Money will radically rearrange your understanding of the world and shows how money can once again become the most powerful force for freedom we have ever known.

About the author

Felix Martin was educated in the UK, Italy and the US, and holds degrees in Classics, International Relations and Economics, including a D.Phil. in Economics from Oxford University. He worked for the World Bank and for the European Stability Initiative think tank, and is currently a partner in the fixed income division at Liontrust Asset Management plc.

1 What is Money?

“Everyone, except an economist, knows what ‘money’ means, and even an economist can describe it in the course of a chapter or so . . .” A.H. Quiggin, A Survey of Primitive Money: the Beginnings of Currency


THE PACIFIC ISLAND of Yap was, at the beginning of the twentieth century, one of the most remote and inaccessible inhabited places on earth. An idyllic, subtropical paradise, nestled in a tiny archipelago nine degrees north of the equator and more than 300 miles from Palau, its closest neighbour, Yap had remained almost innocent of the world beyond Micronesia right up until the final decades of the nineteenth century. There had, it is true, been a brief moment of Western contact in 1731 when a group of intrepid Catholic missionaries had established a small base on the island. When their supply ship returned the following year, however, it discovered that the balmy, palm-scattered islands of Yap had not proved fertile ground for the Christian gospel. The entire mission had been massacred several months previously by local witch doctors aggrieved at the competition presented by the Good News. Yap was left to its own devices for another one hundred and forty years.

It was not until 1869 that the first European trading post run by the German merchant firm of Godeffroy and sons was established in the Yap archipelago. Once a few years had passed, with Godeffroy not only avoiding summary execution but prospering, Yap’s presence came to the attention of the Spanish, who by virtue of their colonial possessions in the Philippines a mere 800 miles to the west considered themselves the natural overlords of this part of Micronesia. The Spanish laid claim to the islands, and believed that they had achieved a fait accompli when in the summer of 1885 they erected a house and installed a Governor in it. They had not counted, however, on the tenacity of Bismarck’s Germany in matters of foreign policy. No island was so small, or so remote, as to be unworthy of the Imperial Foreign Ministry’s attention if it meant a potential addition to German power. The ownership of Yap became the subject of an international dispute. Eventually, the matter was referred somewhat ironically, given the island’s track record to arbitration by the Pope, who granted political control to Spain, but full commercial rights to Germany. But the Iron Chancellor had the last laugh. Within a decade and a half, Spain had lost a damaging war with America for control of the Philippines, and its ambitions in the Pacific had disintegrated. In 1899, Spain sold Yap to Germany for the sum of $3.3 million.

The absorption of Yap into the German Empire had one great benefit. It brought one of the more interesting and unusual monetary systems in history to the attention of the world. More specifically, it proved the catalyst for a visit by a brilliant and eccentric young American adventurer, William Henry Furness III. The scion of a prominent New England family, Furness had trained as a doctor before converting to anthropology and making his name with a popular account of his travels in Borneo. In 1903 he made a two-month visit to Yap, and published a broad survey of its physical and social make-up a few years later. He was immediately impressed by how much more remote and untouched it was than Borneo. Yet despite being a tiny island with only a few thousand inhabitants ‘whose whole length and breadth is but a day’s walk’, as Furness described it Yap turned out to have a remarkably complex society. There was a caste system, with a tribe of slaves, and special Clubhouses lived in by fishing and fighting fraternities. There was a rich tradition of dancing and songs, which Furness took particular delight in recording for posterity. There was a vibrant native religion as the missionaries had previously discovered to their cost complete with an elaborate genesis myth locating the origins of the Yapese in a giant barnacle attached to some floating driftwood. But undoubtedly the most striking thing that Furness discovered on Yap was its monetary system.

The economy of Yap, such as it was, could hardly be called developed. The market extended to a bare three products fish, coconuts, and Yap’s one and only luxury, sea cucumber. There was no other exchangeable commodity to speak of; no agriculture; few arts and crafts; the only domesticated animals were pigs and, since the Germans had arrived, a few cats; and there had been little contact or trade with outsiders. It was as simple and as isolated an economy as one could hope to find. Given these antediluvian conditions, Furness expected to find nothing more advanced than simple barter. Indeed, as he observed, ‘in a land where food and drink and ready-made clothes grow on trees and may be had for the gathering’ it seemed possible that even barter itself would be an unnecessary sophistication.

The very opposite turned out to be true. Yap had a highly developed system of money. It was impossible for Furness not to notice it the moment that he set foot on the island, because its coinage was extremely unusual. It consisted of fei, large, solid, thick stone wheels ranging in diameter from a foot to twelve feet, having in the centre a hole varying in size with the diameter of the stone, wherein a pole may be inserted sufficiently large and strong to bear the weight and facilitate transportation’. This stone money was originally quarried on Babelthuap, an island some 300 miles away in Palau, and had mostly been brought to Yap, so it was said, long ago. The value of the coins depended principally on their size, but also on the fineness of the grain and the whiteness of the limestone.

At first, Furness believed that this bizarre form of currency might have been chosen because, rather than in spite of, its extraordinary unwieldiness: ‘when it takes four strong men to steal the price of a pig, burglary cannot but prove a somewhat disheartening occupation’, he ventured. ‘As may be supposed, thefts of fei are almost unknown.’ But as time went on, he observed that physical transportation of fei from one house to another was in fact rare. Numerous transactions took place but the debts incurred were typically just offset against each other, with any outstanding balance carried forward in expectation of some future exchange. Even when open balances were felt to require settlement, it was not usual for fei to be physically exchanged.

‘The noteworthy feature of this stone currency,’ wrote Furness, ‘is that it is not necessary for its owner to reduce it to possession. After concluding a bargain which involves the price of a fei too large to be conveniently moved, its new owner is quite content to accept the bare acknowledgement of ownership and without so much as a mark to indicate the exchange, the coin remains undisturbed on the former owner’s premises.’

The stone currency of Yap as photographed by William Henry Furness III in 1903, with people and palm trees for scale.

When Furness expressed amazement at this aspect of the Yap monetary system, his guide told him an even more surprising story:

“There was in the village nearby a family whose wealth was unquestioned, acknowledged by everyone and yet no one, not even the family itself, had ever laid eye or hand on this wealth; it consisted of an enormous fei, whereof the size is known only by tradition; for the past two or three generations it had been and was at that time lying at the bottom of the sea!”

This fei, it transpired, had been shipwrecked during a storm while in transit from Babelthuap many years ago. Nevertheless:

“It was universally conceded . . . that the mere accident of its loss overboard was too trifling to mention, and that a few hundred feet of water offshore ought not to affect its marketable value . . . The purchasing power of that stone remains, therefore, as valid as if it were leaning visibly against the side of the owner’s house, and represents wealth as potentially as the hoarded inactive gold of a miser in the Middle Ages, or as our silver dollars stacked in the Treasury in Washington, which we never see or touch, but trade with on the strength of a printed certificate that they are there.”

When it was published in 1910, it seemed unlikely that Furness’ eccentric travelogue would ever reach the notice of the economics profession. But eventually a copy happened to find its way to the editors of the Royal Economic Society’s Economic Journal, who assigned the book to a young Cambridge economist, recently seconded to the British Treasury on war duty: a certain John Maynard Keynes. The man who over the next twenty years was to revolutionise the world’s understanding of money and finance was astonished. Furness’ book, he wrote, ‘has brought us into contact with a people whose ideas on currency are probably more truly philosophical than those of any other country. Modern practice in regard to gold reserves has a good deal to learn from the more logical practices of the island of Yap.’ Why it was that the greatest economist of the twentieth century believed the monetary system of Yap to hold such important and universal lessons is the subject of this book.


What is money, and where does it come from?

A few years ago, over a drink, I posed these two questions to an old friend, a successful entrepreneur with a prospering business in the financial services industry. He responded with a familiar story. In primitive times, there was no money just barter. When people needed something that they didn’t produce themselves, they had to find someone who had it and was willing to swap it for whatever they did produce. Of course, the problem with this system of barter exchange is that it was very inefficient. You had to find another person who had exactly what you wanted, and who in turn wanted exactly what you had got, and what is more, both at exactly the same time.

So at a certain point, the idea emerged of choosing one thing to serve as a ‘medium of exchange’. This thing could in principle be anything so long as, by general agreement, it was universally acceptable as payment. In practice, however, gold and silver have always been the most common choices, because they are durable, malleable, portable, and rare. In any case, whatever it was, this thing was from then on desirable not only for its own sake, but because it could be used to buy other things and to store up wealth for the future. This thing, in short, was money and this is where money came from. it’s a simple and powerful story. And as I explained to my friend, it is a theory of money’s nature and origins with a very ancient and distinguished pedigree. A version of it can be found in Aristotle’s Politics, the earliest treatment of the subject in the entire Western canon. It is the theory developed by John Locke, the father of classical political Liberalism, in his Second Treatise of Government. To cap it all, it is the very theory almost to the letter advocated by none other than Adam Smith in his chapter ‘Of the Origin and Use of Money’ in the foundation text of modern economics, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations:

“But when the division of labour first began to take place, this power of exchanging must frequently have been very much clogged and embarrassed in its operations . . . The butcher has more meat in his shop than he himself can consume, and the brewer and the baker would each of them be willing to purchase a part of it. But they have nothing to offer in exchange, except the productions of their respective trades, and the butcher is already provided with all the bread and beer which he has immediate occasion for . . . In order to avoid such situations, every prudent man in every period of society, after the first establishment of the division of labour, must naturally have endeavoured to manage his affairs in such a manner, as to have at all times by him, besides the peculiar produce of his own industry, a certain quantity of some one commodity or other, such as he imagined few other people would be likely to refuse in exchange for the produce of their industry.”

Smith even shared my friend’s agnosticism as to which commodity would be chosen to serve as money:

“Many different commodities, it is probable, were successively both thought of and employed for this purpose. In the rude ages of society, cattle are said to have been the most common instrument of commerce . . . Salt is said to be the common instrument of commerce and exchange in Abyssinia; a species of shells in some parts of the coast of India; dried cod in Newfoundland; tobacco in Virginia; sugar in some of our West India colonies; hides or dressed leather in some other countries; and there is to this day a village in Scotland where it is not uncommon, I am told, for a workman to carry nails instead of money to the baker’s shop or the alehouse.”

And like my friend, Smith also believed that in general, gold, silver, and other metals were the most logical choices:

“In all countries, however, men seem at last to have been determined by irresistible reasons to give the preference, for this employment, to metals above every other commodity. Metals can not only be kept with as little loss as any other commodity, scarce any thing being less perishable than they are, but they can likewise, without any loss, be divided into any number of parts, as by fusion of those parts can easily be re-united again; a quality which no other equally durable commodities possess, and which more than any other quality renders them fit to be the instruments of commerce and circulation.”

So I told my friend he could congratulate himself. Without having studied economics at all, he had arrived at the same theory as the great Adam Smith. But that’s not all, I explained. This theory of money’s origins and nature is not just a historical curiosity like Ptolemy’s geocentric astronomy, a set of obsolete hypotheses long since superseded by more modern theories. On the contrary, it is found today in virtually all mainstream textbooks of economics. What’s more, its fundamental ideas have formed the bedrock of an immense body of detailed theoretical and empirical research on monetary questions over the last sixty years. Based on its assumptions, economists have designed sophisticated mathematical models to explore exactly why one commodity is chosen as money over all others and how much of it people will want to hold, and have constructed a vast analytical apparatus designed to explain every aspect of money’s value and use. It has provided the basis for the branch of economics, ‘macroeconomics’ as it is known, which seeks to explain economic booms and busts, and to recommend how we can moderate these so-called business cycles by managing interest rates and government spending. In short, my friend’s ideas not only had history behind them. They remain today, amongst amateurs and experts alike, very much the conventional theory of money.

By now, my friend was positively brimming with self-congratulation. ‘I know that I’m brilliant,’ he said with his usual modesty, ‘but it does still amaze me that I, a rank amateur, can match the greatest minds in the economic canon without ever having given it a second thought before today. Doesn’t it make you think you might have been wasting your time all those years you were studying for your degrees?’ I agreed that there was certainly something a bit troubling about it all. But not because he had hit upon the theory without any training in economics. It was quite the opposite. It was that those of us who have had years of training regurgitate this theory. Because simple and intuitive though it may be, there is a drawback to the conventional theory of money. It is entirely false.

John Maynard Keynes


John Maynard Keynes was right about Yap. William Henry Furness’ description of its curious stone currency may at first appear to be nothing more than a picturesque footnote to the history of money. But it poses some awkward questions of the conventional theory of money. Take, for example, the idea that money emerged out of barter. When Aristotle, Locke, and Smith were making this claim, they were doing so purely on the basis of deductive logic. None of them had ever actually seen an economy that operated entirely via barter exchange. But it seemed plausible that such an arrangement might once have existed; and if it had existed, then it also seemed plausible that it would have been so unsatisfactory that someone would have tried to invent a way to improve on it.

In this context, the monetary system of Yap came as something of a surprise. Here was an economy so simple that it should theoretically have been operating by barter. Yet it was not: it had a fully developed system of money and currency. Perhaps Yap was an exception to the rule. But if an economy this rudimentary already had money, then where and when would a barter economy be found?

This question continued to trouble researchers over the century after Furness’ account of Yap was published. As historical and ethnographic evidence accumulated, Yap came to look less and less of an anomaly. Seek as they might, not a single researcher was able to find a society, historical or contemporary, that regularly conducted its trade by barter.

By the 1980s, the leading anthropologists of money considered the verdict to be in. ‘Barter, in the strict sense of moneyless market exchange, has never been a quantitatively important or dominant mode of transaction in any past or present economic system about which we have hard information,’ wrote the American scholar George Dalton in 1982. ‘No example of a barter economy, pure and simple, has ever been described, let alone the emergence from it of money; all available ethnography suggests that there has never been such a thing,’ concluded the Cambridge anthropologist Caroline Humphrey.

The news even began filtering through to the more intellectually adventurous fringes of the economics profession. The great American economic historian Charles Kindleberger, for example, wrote in the second edition of his Financial History of Western Europe, published in 1993, that ‘Economic historians have occasionally maintained that evolution in economic intercourse has proceeded from a natural or barter economy to a money economy and ultimately to a credit economy. This view was put forward, for example, in 1864 by Bruno Hildebrand of the German historical school of economics; it happens to be wrong.’

By the beginning of the twenty-first century, a rare academic consensus had been reached amongst those with an interest in empirical evidence that the conventional idea that money emerged from barter was false. As the anthropologist David Graeber explained bluntly in 2011: ‘There’s no evidence that it ever happened, and an enormous amount of evidence suggesting that it did not.’

The story of Yap does not just present a challenge to the conventional theory’s account of money’s origins, however. It also raises serious doubts about its conception of what money actually is. The conventional theory holds that money is a ‘thing’ a commodity chosen from amongst the universe of commodities to serve as a medium of exchange and that the essence of monetary exchange is the swapping of goods and services for this commodity medium of exchange. But the stone money of Yap doesn’t fit this scheme. In the first place, it is difficult to believe that anyone could have chosen ‘large, solid, thick stone wheels ranging in diameter from a foot to twelve feet’ as a medium of exchange since in most cases, they would be a good deal harder to move than the things being traded. But more worryingly, it was clear that the fei were not a medium of exchange in the sense of a commodity that could be exchanged for any other since most of the time, they were not exchanged at all. Indeed, in the case of the infamous shipwrecked fei, no one had ever even seen the coin in question, let alone passed it around as a medium of exchange. No, there could be no doubt: the inhabitants of Yap were curiously indifferent to the fate of the fei themselves. The essence of their monetary system was not stone coins used as a medium of exchange, but something else.

Closer consideration of Adam Smith’s story of commodities chosen to serve as media of exchange suggests that the inhabitants of Yap were on to something. Smith claimed that at different times and in different places, numerous commodities had been chosen to serve as the money: dried cod in Newfoundland; tobacco in Virginia; sugar in the West Indies; and even nails in Scotland. Yet suspicions about the validity of some of these examples were already being raised within a generation or two of the publication of Smith’s Wealth of Nations.

The American financier Thomas Smith, for example, argued in his Essay on Currency and Banking in 1832 that whilst Smith thought that these stories were evidence of commodity media of exchange, they were in fact nothing of the sort. In every case, these were examples of trade that was accounted for in pounds, shillings, and pence, just as it was in modern England. Sellers would accumulate credit on their books, and buyers debts, all denominated in monetary units. The fact that any net balances that remained between them might then be discharged by payment of some commodity or other to the value of the debt did not mean that that commodity was ‘money’. To focus on the commodity payment rather than the system of credit and clearing behind it was to get things completely the wrong way round. And to take the view that it was the commodity itself that was money, as Smith did, might therefore start out seeming logical, but would end in nonsense. Alfred Mitchell Innes, the author of two neglected masterworks on the nature of money, summed up the problem with Smith’s report of cod-money in Newfoundland bluntly but accurately:

“A moment’s reflection shows that a staple commodity could not be used as money, because ex hypothesi the medium of exchange is equally receivable by all members of the community. Thus if the fishers paid for their supplies in cod, the traders would equally have to pay for their cod in cod, an obvious absurdity.”

If the fei of Yap were not a medium of exchange, then what were they? And more to the point, what, in fact, was Yap’s money if it wasn’t the fei? The answer to both questions is remarkably simple. Yap’s money was not the fei, but the underlying system of credit accounts and clearing of which they helped to keep track. The fei were just tokens by which these accounts were kept.

As in Newfoundland, the inhabitants of Yap would accumulate credits and debts in the course of their trading in fish, coconut, pigs, and sea cucumber. These would be offset against one another to settle payments. Any outstanding balances carried forward at the end of a single exchange, or a day, or a week, might, if the counterparties so wished, be settled by the exchange of currency, a fei to the appropriate value; this being a tangible and visible record of the outstanding credit that the seller enjoyed with the rest of Yap.

Coins and currency, in other words, are useful tokens to record the underlying system of credit accounts and to implement the underlying process of clearing. They may even be necessary in an economy larger than that of Yap, where coins could drop to the bottom of the sea and yet no one would think to question the wealth of their owner.

But currency is not itself money. Money is the system of credit accounts and their clearing that currency represents.

If all this sounds familiar to the modern reader, even obvious, it should. After all, thinking of money as a commodity and monetary exchange as the swapping of goods for a tangible medium of exchange may have been intuitive in the days when coins were minted from precious metals. It may even have made sense when the law entitled the holder of a Federal Reserve or Bank of England note to present it on Constitution Avenue or Threadneedle Street and expect its redemption for a specified quantity of gold.

But those days are long gone. In today’s modern monetary regimes, there is no gold that backs our dollars, pounds, or euros nor any legal right to redeem our banknotes for it.

Modern banknotes are quite transparently nothing but tokens. What is more, most of the currency in our contemporary economies does not enjoy even the precarious physical existence of a banknote. The vast majority of our national money around 90 per cent in the US, for example, and 97 per cent in the UK has no physical existence at all. It consists merely of our account balances at our banks. The only tangible apparatus employed in most monetary payments today is a plastic card and a keypad. It would be a brave theorist indeed who would try to maintain that a pair of microchips and a Wi-Fi connection are a commodity medium of exchange.

By a strange coincidence, John Maynard Keynes is not the only giant of twentieth-century economics to have saluted the inhabitants of Yap for their clear understanding of the nature of money. In 1991, seventy-nine-year-old Milton Friedman, hardly Keynes’ ideological bedfellow, also came across Furness’ obscure book. He too extolled the fact that Yap had escaped from the conventional but unhealthy obsession with commodity coinage, and that by its indifference to its physical currency it acknowledged so transparently that money is not a commodity, but a system of credit and clearing.

‘For a century or more, the “civilized” world regarded as a manifestation of its wealth metal dug from deep in the ground, refined at great labor, and transported great distances to be buried again in elaborate vaults deep under the ground,’ he wrote. ‘Is the one practice really more rational than the other?’

To win the praise of one of the two greatest monetary economists of the twentieth century may be regarded as chance; to win the praise of both deserves attention.


The economic worldview of Yap, which both Keynes and Friedman applauded, of money as a special type of credit, of monetary exchange as the clearing of credit accounts, and of currency as merely tokens of an underlying credit relationship, has not been without its own forceful historical proponents. Amongst those who have had to deal with the practical business of managing money especially in extremis the view of money as credit, rather than a commodity, has always had a strong following. One famous example is provided by the siege of Valletta by the Turks in 1565. As the Ottoman embargo dragged on, the supply of gold and silver began to run short, and the Knights of Malta were forced to mint coins using copper. The motto that they stamped on them in order to remind the population of the source of their value would have seemed perfectly sensible to the inhabitants of Yap: Non Aes, sed Fides ‘Not the metal, but trust’.

Nevertheless, it is undoubtedly the conventional view of money as a commodity, of monetary exchange as swapping goods for a medium of exchange, and of credit as the lending out of the money commodity, that has enjoyed the lion’s share of support from theorists and philosophers over the centuries, and thereby dominated economic thought and, for much of the time, policy as well.

But if it is so obvious that the conventional theory of money is wrong, why has such a distinguished canon of economists and philosophers believed it? And why does today’s economics profession by and large persist in using the fundamental ideas of this tradition as the building blocks of modern economic thinking? Why, in short, is the conventional theory of money so resilient? There are two basic reasons, and they are worth dwelling on.

The first reason has to do with the historical evidence for money. The problem is not that so little of it survives from earlier ages, but that it is virtually all of a single type, coins. Museums around the world heave with coins, ancient and modern. Coins and their inscriptions are one of the main archaeological sources for the understanding of ancient culture, society, and history. Deciphered by ingenious scholars, their graven images and their abbreviated inscriptions give up vast libraries of knowledge about the chronologies of ancient kings, the hierarchy of classical deities, and the ideologies of ancient republics. An entire academic discipline, numismatics, is devoted to the study of coins; and far from being the scholarly equivalent of stamp collecting, as it might appear to the uninitiated, numismatics is amongst the most fruitful fields of historical research.

But of course the real reason why coins are so important in the study of ancient history, and why they have dominated in particular the study of the history of money, is that coins are what have survived. Coins are made of durable metals and very often of imperishable metals, such as gold or silver, which do not rust or corrode. As a result, they tend to survive the ravages of time better than most other things. What is more, coins are valuable. As a result, there has always been a tendency for them to be squirrelled away in buried or hidden hoards, the better to be discovered decades, centuries, or even millennia later by the enterprising historian or numismatist. The problem is that in no field so much as the history of money is an approach fixated upon what physically survives likely to lead us into error.

The unfortunate story of the wholesale destruction of one of the most important collections of source material for the history of money ever to have existed shows why.

For more than six hundred years, from the twelfth to the late eighteenth century, the operation of the public finances of England rested on a simple but ingenious piece of accounting technology: the Exchequer tally. A tally was a wooden stick usually harvested from the willows that grew along the Thames near the Palace of Westminster. On the stick were inscribed, always with notches in the wood and sometimes also in writing, details of payments made to or from the Exchequer. Some were receipts for tax payments made by landowners to the Crown. Others referred to transactions in the opposite direction, recording the sums due on loans by the sovereign to prominent subjects. ‘92 4s 4p from Fulk Basset for the farm of Wycombe’ reads one that has survived, for example relating a debt owed by Fulk Basset, a thirteenth-century Bishop of London, to Henry III. Even bribes seem to have been recorded on Exchequer tallies: one stick in a private collection bears the suspicious-sounding euphemism ‘135 4d from William de Tullewyk for the king’s good will’.

Once the details of the payment had been recorded on the tally stick, it was split down the middle from end to end so that each party to the transaction could keep a record. The creditor’s half was called the ‘stock’, and the debtor’s the ‘foil’: hence the English use of the term ‘stocks’ for Treasury bonds, which survives to this day. The unique grain of the willow wood meant that a convincing forgery was virtually impossible; while the record of the account in a portable format rather than just inscribed in the Treasury account books at Westminster, for example meant that Exchequer credits could be passed from their original holder to a third party in payment of some unrelated debt. Tallies were what are called ‘bearer securities’ in modern financial jargon: financial obligations such as bonds, share certificates, or banknotes, the beneficiary of which is whoever holds the physical record.

Historians agree that the vast majority of fiscal operations in medieval England must have been carried out using tally sticks; and they suppose that a great deal of monetary exchange was transacted using them as well. A credit with the Exchequer, as recorded on a tally stick, would after all have been welcomed in payment by anyone who had taxes of his own coming due. It is, however, impossible to know for certain. For although millions of tallies must have been manufactured over the centuries, and though we know for sure that many thousands survived in the Exchequer archives up until the early nineteenth century, only a handful of specimens exist today. The ultimate culprit for this unfortunate situation is the famous zeal of England’s nineteenthcentury advocates of administrative reform.

A collection of English Exchequer tallies: rare survivors of one of the great episodes of historical vandalism of the nineteenth century.

Despite the fact that the tally-stick system had proved itself remarkably efficient over the preceding five hundred years, by the late eighteenth century it was felt that it was time to dispense with it. Keeping accounts with notched sticks let alone using wooden splints as money alongside the elegant paper notes of the Bank of England was by then considered little short of barbaric, and certainly out of keeping with the enormous progress being made in commerce and technology. An Act of Parliament of 1782 officially abolished tally sticks as the main means of account-keeping at the Exchequer, though, because certain sinecures still operated on the old system, the Act had to wait almost another half-century, until 1826, to come into effect. But in 1834, the ancient institution of the Receipt of the Exchequer was finally abolished, and the last Exchequer tally replaced by a paper note.

Once the tally-stick system had finally been abolished, the question arose of what to do with the vast archive of tallies left in the Exchequer. Amongst the partisans of reform the general feeling was that they were nothing but embarrassing relics of the way in which the fiscal accounts of the British Empire had been kept, ‘much as Robinson Crusoe kept his calendar on the desert island’, and it was decided without hesitation to incinerate them. Twenty years later, Charles Dickens recounted the unfortunate consequences:

It came to pass that they were burnt in a stove in the House of Lords. The stove, overgorged with these preposterous sticks, set fire to the panelling; the panelling set fire to the House of Lords; the House of Lords set fire to the House of Commons; the two houses were reduced to ashes; architects were called in to build others; we are now in the second million of the cost thereof . . .

The Houses of Parliament could be rebuilt, of course and were, to leave the splendid Palace of Westminster that stands on the banks of the Thames today. What could not be resurrected from the inferno, however, was the priceless record of England’s fiscal and monetary history constituted by the tallies. Historians have had to rely on a handful of tallies that survived by chance in private collections, and we are fortunate that there are a few contemporary accounts of how they were used. But as for the immense wealth of knowledge that the Westminster archive embodied about the state of England’s money and finances throughout the Middle Ages, it is irretrievably lost.

If this is a problem for the history of money in medieval England, the situation is infinitely worse for the history of money more generally and especially in pre-literate societies. All too often, the only physical trace of money that remains is coins: yet as the example of the English tally-stick system shows, coinage may have been only the very tip of the monetary iceberg. Vast hinterlands of monetary and financial history lie beyond our grasp simply because no physical evidence of their existence and operation survives.

To appreciate the seriousness of the problem we have only to consider what hope the historians of the future would have of reconstructing our own monetary history if a natural disaster were to destroy the digital records of our contemporary financial system. We can only trust that reason would prevail, and that they would not build their understanding of modern economic life on the assumption that the pound and euro coins and nickels and dimes that survived were the sum total of our money.


The second reason why the conventional theory of money remains so resilient is directly related to a still more intrinsic difficulty. There is an old Chinese proverb: ‘The fish is the last to know water’. It is a concise explanation of why the ‘social’ or ‘human’ sciences anthropology, sociology, economics and so on are different from the natural sciences physics, chemistry, and biology. In the natural sciences, we study the physical world; and it is at least in principle possible to get an objective view. Things are not so simple in the social sciences. In these fields, we are studying ourselves, as individuals and in groups. Society and our selves have no independent existence apart from us and by contrast to the natural sciences, this makes it exceptionally difficult to get an objective view of things. The closer an institution is to the heart of our daily lives, the trickier it is to step outside of it in order to analyse it and the more controversial will be attempts to do so.

The second reason why the nature of money is so difficult to pin down, and why it has been and remains a subject of such controversy, is precisely because it is such an integral part of our economies. When we try to understand money, we are like the fish of the Chinese proverb, trying to know the very water in which it moves.

This doesn’t mean that all social science is a waste of time, however. It may not be possible to get an absolutely objective view of our own habits, customs, and traditions; but by studying them under different historical conditions we can get a more objective view than otherwise. Just as we can use two different perspectives on a point in the distance to triangulate its position when out hiking, we can learn a lot about a familiar social phenomenon by observing it in other times, in other places, and in other cultures. The only problem in the case of money is that it is such a basic element of the economy that finding opportunities for such triangulation is tricky. Most of the time money is just part of the furniture. It is only when the normal monetary order is disrupted that the veil is snatched from our eyes. When the monetary order dissolves, the water is temporarily tipped out of the fishbowl and we become for a critical moment a fish out of water.

. . .



Money. The Unauthorised Biography

by Felix Martin

get it at Amazon.com

Swearing is Good for You. The Amazing Science of Bad Language – Emma Byrne.

Swear words are (a) words people use when they are highly emotional and (b) words that refer to something taboo.

Languages are dominated by either religious swearing, copulatory swearing or excretory swearing.

Swearing is a complex social signal that is laden with emotional and cultural significance.


What the Fuck is Swearing?

“Swearing draws upon such powerful and incongruous resonators as religion, sex, madness, excretion, and nationality, encompassing an extraordinary variety of attitudes including the violent, the amusing, the shocking, the absurd, the casual and the impossible.” Geoffrey Hughes

When I was about nine years old, I was smacked for calling my little brother a ‘twat’. I had no idea what a twat was, I thought it was just a silly way of saying ‘twit’ but that smack taught me that some words are more powerful than others and that I had to be careful how I used them.

But, as you’ve no doubt gathered, that experience didn’t exactly cure me of swearing. In fact, it probably went some way towards piquing my fascination with profanity. Since then I’ve had a certain pride in my knack for colourful and well timed swearing: being a woman in a male dominated field, I rely on it to camouflage myself as one of the guys. Calling some equipment a fucking piece of shit is often a necessary rite of passage when I join a new team.

So when I discovered that other scientists have been taking swearing seriously for a long time and that I’m not the only person who finds judicious profanity useful I was fucking delighted! I first began to realise there was more to swearing than a bit of banter or blasphemy when I happened to read a study that involved sixty-seven brave volunteers, a bucket of ice water, a swear word and a stopwatch. I was working in a neuroscience lab at the time, and that study changed the course of my research. It set me on a quest to study swearing: why we do it, how we do it and what it tells us about ourselves.

But what is swearing and why is it special? Is it the way that it sounds? Or the way that it feels when we say it? Does every language have swearing? Why do we try to teach our children not to swear but always end up having to tell them not to swear? Thanks to a whole range of scientists from Victorian surgeons to modern neuroscientists, we know a lot more about swearing than we used to. But, because swearing is still seen as shocking (there was much agonising about the wisdom or otherwise of using a swear word in the title of this book), that information hasn’t made it into the mainstream. It’s a fucking shame that the fascinating facts about swearing are still largely locked up in journals and textbooks.

For example, I’m definitely not the only person who uses swearing as a way of fitting in at work. On the contrary, research shows that swearing can help build teams in the workplace. From the factory floor to the operating theatre, scientists have shown that teams who share a vulgar lexicon tend to work more effectively together, feel closer and be more productive than those who don’t. These same studies show that managing stress in the same way that we manage pain with a fucking good swear is more effective than any number of team building exercises.

Swearing has also helped to develop the field of neuroscience. By providing us with a useful emotional barometer, swearing has been used as a research tool for over 150 years. It has helped us to discover some fascinating things about the structure of the human brain, such as its division into left and right hemispheres, and the role of cerebral structures like the amygdala in the regulation of emotions.

Swearing has taught us a great deal about our minds, too. We know that people who learn a second language often find it less stressful to swear in their adopted tongue, which gives us an idea of the childhood developmental stages at which we learn emotions and taboos. Swearing also makes the heart beat faster and primes us to think aggressive thoughts while, paradoxically, making us less likely to be physically violent.

And swearing is a surprisingly flexible part of our linguistic repertoire. It reinvents itself from generation to generation as taboos shift. Profanity has even become part of the way we express positive feelings we know that football fans use ‘fuck’ just as frequently when they’re happy as when they are angry or frustrated.

That last finding is one of my own. With colleagues at City University, London, I’ve studied thousands of football fans and their bad language during big games. It’s no great surprise that football fans swear, and that they are particularly fond of ‘fuck’ and ‘shit’. But we noticed something interesting about the ratio between these two swear words. The ‘fuck-shit’ ratio is a reliable indicator of which team has scored because it turns out that ‘shit’ is almost universally negative while ‘fuck’ can be a sign of something good or bad. Swearing among football fans also isn’t anywhere near as aggressive as you might think; fans on Twitter almost never swear about their opponents and reserve their outbursts for players on their own team.

Publishing that research gave me an insight into the sort of public disapproval that swearing still attracts. We were contacted by a journalist from one of the UK’s most widely read newspapers. I won’t name it, but it’s well known for its thunderously moralising tone while at the same time printing long-lens photographs of women who are then accused of ‘flaunting’ some part of their bodies. We were asked (a) how much money had been spent (wasted) on the research and (b) whether we wouldn’t be better doing something useful (like curing cancer). I replied that the entire cost of the research, the £6.99 spent on a bottle of wine while we came up with the hypothesis, had been self-funded, and that my co-author and I were computer scientists with very limited understanding of oncology, so it was probably best if we stayed away from interfering with anyone suffering from cancer. We didn’t hear back. But this exchange brought home the fact that swearing is still a long way from being a respectable topic of research.

Swearing is one of those things that comes so naturally, and seems so frivolous, that you might be surprised by the number of scientists who are studying it. But neuroscientists, psychologists, sociologists and historians have long taken an interest in bad language, and for good reason. Although swearing might seem frivolous, it teaches us a lot about how our brains, our minds and even our societies work.

This book won‘t just look at swearing in isolation. One of the things that makes swearing so fucking amazing is the sheer breadth of connections it has with our lives. Throughout this book I’ll cover many different topics, some of which might seem like digressions. There are plenty of pages that contain no profanity whatsoever but, from the indirectness of Japanese speech patterns to the unintended consequences of potty training chimpanzees, everything relates back to the way we use bad language.

Is this book simply an attempt to justify rudeness and aggression? Not at all. I certainly wouldn’t want profanities to become commonplace: swearing needs to maintain its emotional impact in order to be effective. We only need to look at the way that swearing has changed over the last hundred years to see that, as some swear words become mild and ineffectual through overuse or shifting culturaI values, we reach for other taboos to fill the gap. Where blasphemy was once the true obscenity, the modern unsayables include racist and sexist terms as swear words. Depending on your point of view this is either a lamentable shift towards political correctness or timely recognition that bigotry is ugly and damaging.

What is Swearing?

Historically, bad language consisted of swearing, oaths and curses. That’s because such utterances were considered to have a particular type of word magic. The power of an oath, a pledge or a curse was potentially enough to call down calamities or literally change the world.

These days, we don’t really believe that swearing has the power to alter reality. No one expects the curse ‘go fuck yourself’ to result in any greater injury than a bit of hurt pride. Nevertheless, there is still a kind of word magic involved: swearing, cursing, bad language, profanity, obscenity call it what you will, draws on taboos, and that’s where the power lies.

That doesn’t mean that swearing is always used as a vehicle for aggression or insult. In fact, study after study has shown that swearing is as likely to be used in frustration with oneself, or in solidarity, or to amuse someone, as it is to be used as ‘fighting words’. That can be a problem: swearing and abuse are both slippery beasts to pin down, and without clear definitions of a phenomenon, how are we supposed to study it? Among the hundreds of studies I’ve read while writing this book, two common definitions appear over and over again: swear words are (a) words people use when they are highly emotional and (b) words that refer to something taboo. If you think about the words you class as swearing, you’ll find that they tick both of these boxes.

More formally, several linguists have tried to pin down exactly what constitutes swearing. Among them is Professor Magnus Ljung of the University of Stockholm, a respected expert on swearing. In 2011 he published Swearing: A Cross-Cultural Linguistic Study, in which he defines swearing, based upon his study of thousands of examples and what they had in common, as:

– The use of taboo words like ‘fuck’ and ‘shit’,

– Which aren’t used literally,

– Which are fairly formulaic,

– And which are emotive: swearing sends a signal about the speaker’s state of mind.

In his book What the F, Benjamin K. Bergen points out that, of the 7,000 known languages in the world, there is massive variation in the type, the use and even the number of swear words. Russian, for example, with its elaborate rules of inflection, has an almost infinite number of ways of swearing, most of them related to the moral standing of one’s interlocutor’s mother. In Japanese, where the excretory taboo is almost non-existent (hence the friendly poo emoji), there’s no equivalent to ‘shit’ or ‘piss’ but, contrary to popular belief, there are several swear words in the language. Kichigai loosely translates as ‘retard’ and is usually bleeped in the media, as is kutabare (‘drop dead’). And, as in so many languages, the queen of all swear words is manko, which refers to a body part so taboo that artist Megumi Igarashi was arrested in 2014 for making 3D models of her own manko for an installation in Tokyo.

Languages vary in their repertoire of swear words; it’s a natural consequence of the differences in our cultures. Bergen suggests that languages fall into one of four classes, what he calls the Holy Fucking Shit Nigger principle. Languages are dominated by either religious swearing, copulatory swearing or excretory swearing. The fourth category refers to slur-based swearing, but so far I haven’t come across any languages that are dominated by slurs. There are languages whose most frowned upon taboos include animal names. In Germany, for example, you can be fined anywhere from €300 to €600 for calling someone a daft cow, and up to €2,500 for ‘old pig’. Dutch, meanwhile, has a whole host of bad language to do with illness: calling a police officer a cancer sufferer (Kankerlijer) can net you two years’ incarceration.

Bergen also investigates whether the characteristics of swear words set them apart. In American English, swear words do tend to be a bit shorter than average, but that’s not the case in French or Spanish. It’s unlikely to be the sound of the words either, as words that sound innocuous in one language can sound grossly offensive in another. This has been played for laughs since Shakespeare’s time, with the comedy ‘English lesson’ in Henry V. The French Princess Katherine wants to learn English from her maid, Alice. Having mastered ‘elbow’, ‘neck’ and ‘chin’, she asks how to say ‘pied’ and ‘robe’:

Katherine: ‘Ainsi dis-je! “D’elbow, de nick, et de sin”. Comment appelez-vous le pied et la robe?’

(‘That’s what I said! “D’elbow, de nick, et de sin”. How do you say pied and robe?’)

Alice: “‘Le foot”, Madame, et “le count”.’

Katherine proceeds to have hysterics, the gag being that foot sounds a little like foutre and count (Alice’s mangled pronunciation of ‘gown’) sounds a bit like con:

“‘Le foot” et “le count”. O Seigneur Dieu! Ils sont mots de son mauvais, corruptible, gros, et impudique, et non pour les dames d’honneur d’user! Je ne voudrais prononcer ces mots devant les seigneurs de France pour tout le monde. Foh! “Le foot” et “Le count”!’

(“‘Fuck” and “cunt”. Oh my Lord! Those are some awful, corrupted, coarse and rude words, not to be used by a lady of virtue! I would not say those words before the Lords of France for the world! Foh! “Fuck” and “cunt”!’)

If we can’t judge by the length, the spelling or the sound of words to tell us what makes a swear word, what can we go on? Some linguists have tried to define swearing by the parts of the brain involved. In his book Language, the Stuff of Thought, linguist and psychologist Steven Pinker says that swearing is distinct from ‘genuine’ language and suggests that it is not generated by those parts of the brain responsible for ‘higher thought’ the cortex, or the brain’s outer layers. Instead, swearing comes from the subcortex the part of the brain responsible for movement, emotions and bodily functions. It is, he suggests, more like an animal’s cry than human language.

In the context of the latest scientific advances, I don’t agree. Certainly, swearing is deeply engrained in our behaviour, but to read Pinker’s definition, you might conclude that swearing is a vestigial, primitive part of our lexicon; something we should try to evolve ourselves away from. There’s a vast body of other research that shows how important swearing is to us as individuals, and how it has developed alongside and even shaped our culture and society. Far from being a simple cry, swearing is a complex social signal that is laden with emotional and cultural significance.

If we want to define swearing, why isn’t it as simple as looking it up in the dictionary? For a start, dictionaries can be incredibly coy about swearing. When he compiled his dictionary in 1538, Sir Thomas Elyot was in no doubt as to the kinds of people who look up dirty words and was having none of it. ‘If anyone wants obscene words with which to arouse dormant desire while reading, let him consult other dictionaries.’ Dr Johnson, on being praised by two society ladies for having left ‘naughty words’ out of his dictionary, replied, ‘What! My dears! Then you have been looking for them?’ At the height of Victorian prudery, the Oxford English Dictionary offered ‘ineffables’ for trousers, and well into the twentieth century, while it included all of the religious and racial swear words, it left out fuck, cunt and ‘the curse’.

As a side note, I find it interesting that there are plentiful euphemisms for menstruation, including ‘the curse’, ‘the crimson tide’, ‘Arsenal playing at home’ and ‘having the decorators in’, but it has never spawned its own class of curse words. The only ones that I’m aware of are the ‘bloodclaat’ and ‘rassclaat’ in Jamaican patois. In the later part of the twentieth century, other lexicographers were still dropping words based on their acceptability in polite society. In 1976 the American Webster’s dictionary dropped ‘dago’, ‘kike’, ‘wop’ and ‘wog’, with the foreword note: ‘This dictionary could easily dispense with those true obscenities, the terms of racial or ethnic opprobrium that are, in any case, encountered with diminishing frequency these days.’

The editors of Webster’s had good motives but were perhaps a little naive. Taking words out of the dictionary doesn’t remove them from our language. And while they might have hoped that 1976 marked a new era in racial and ethnic harmony, from the vantage point of forty years on, this seems touchingly optimistic.

So who does get to decide what constitutes a true obscenity? The answer is that we all do. Within our social groups, our own tribes, we decide what is and is not taboo, and which taboos are suitable for breaking for emotional or rhetorical purposes. Even within the same country, social class can have an effect on what constitutes swearing. According to Robert Graves, author of the 1927 essay Lars Porsena or the Future of Swearing, ‘bastard’ was unforgivable among the ‘governed classes’ whereas ‘bugger’ (which Graves can’t even bring himself to render in print, preferring to use ‘one addicted to an unnatural vice’ and the oddly xenophobic ‘Bulgarian heretic’) was a much deadlier insult among the ranks to which Graves himself belonged.

‘In the governing classes there is a far greater tolerance to bastards, who often have noble or even royal blood in their veins,’ he wrote. ‘Bugger’ was less offensive among the governed because they ‘are more free from the homosexual habit’, he rather artlessly theorised. But ‘when some thirty years ago the word was written nakedly up on a club noticeboard as a charge against one of its members’, and here Graves can’t even bring himself to name Oscar Wilde, ‘there followed a terrific social explosion, from which the dust has even now not yet settled’.

But, while swearing varies from group to group, it still manages to be surprisingly formulaic. So much of swearing, in English at least, uses the same few constructions. For example Geoffrey Hughes, author of Swearing: A Social History of Foul Language, Oaths and Profanity in English, points out that the nouns Christ, fuck, pity and shit have nothing in common except that they can be used in the construction for -’s sake.

I thought about the constructions I regularly use and hear and realise that there are many phrases that are grammatically correct but that are seldom used (and some that are grammatically incorrect, like ‘cock it’ and ‘oh do cock off’ that I use regularly). For example, ‘shit’ is a verb as well as a noun, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say ‘Shit it!’ or ‘Shit you,’ as a complete sentence. ‘Shit’ as a verb currently seems to have a very specific meaning: to wind up or lie to, as in ‘You’re shitting me!’ and the charmingly archaically formulaic reply ‘I shit you not.’ Meanwhile, the ever-flexible fucking and buggery can go in almost every swearing phrase.

Common Formulaic swearing constructions in British English

The British broadcasting regulator, Ofcom, recently carried out a survey of public attitudes to swearing on TV and radio, the results of which I have summarised diagrammatically in Figure 1. Of the ‘big four’ types of swearing in British English (religious, copulatory, excretory and slur-based), religious swearing was considered the least offensive, while slurs, particularly race or sexuality based slurs were considered most offensive. In fact, a soon to be published study of over 10 million words of recorded speech, collected from 376 volunteers, found that many homophobic and racist slurs have disappeared from people’s everyday speech.

Figure 1: The proportions of strong and mild swearing by category

Familiar classics like ‘fuck you’ and ‘bugger off’ seem to have been around for ever, and they certainly don’t lack staying power. Nevertheless, I’m prepared to wager that these swear words will seem as quaint as ‘blast your eyes’ or archaic as ‘sblood’ in a few generations’ time. As our values change, swearing constantly reinvents itself.

How Swearing Changes Over Time

Swearing is a bellwether, a foul beaked canary in the coalmine that tells us what our societal taboos are. A ‘Jesus Christ!’ 150 years ago was as offensive then as a ‘fuck’ or ‘shit’ today. Conversely, there are words used by authors from Agatha Christie to Mark Twain, words that used to be sung in nursery rhymes that these days would not pass muster in polite society.

The acceptability of swearing as a whole waxes and wanes over time. The seriously misnamed Master of the Revels, who presided over London theatre in Shakespeare’s day, banned all profanity from the stage. That’s why the original quarto editions of Othello and Hamlet contain oaths like ‘sblood’ (God’s blood) and ‘zounds’ (God’s wounds), both of which are out completely from the later folio edition. By the time a few generations had passed, and ‘zounds’ was a fossil word found only on paper, the pronunciation shifted to ‘zaunds’ and the word lost all connection with its root thanks to the zealous weeding out of the term from the popular culture of the time.

The censoring of Shakespeare isn’t the only evidence we have of changes in what counts as socially unacceptable language. Linguists and historians have studied trends over the years and identified a huge shift during the Renaissance in Europe. In the Middle Ages, privacy and modesty norms were very different. Talking of bodily parts and functions wasn’t automatically deemed obscene or offensive. But during the Renaissance, those bodily terms began to replace religious oaths and curses as the true obscenities of the time.

That evolution is still unfolding, with terms of abuse that relate to race and sexuality taking on the mantle of the unsayable and disability following behind. That’s partly because we’re more aware of the effect of a mindset known as ‘othering’. Othering is a powerful mental shortcut that we’ve inherited, way back from our earliest primate societies. We all have the subconscious tendency to identify the differences between ourselves and others and to divide the world into ‘people like us’ and ‘people not like us’. We tend to be more generous towards and more trusting of the people who are most like ourselves. The problem is that for hundreds of years (at least) the more powerful groups have persecuted and exploited the less powerful. And the words we have for those people in the less powerful groups tend to reinforce those patterns of subjugation, leading to some incredibly powerful emotions. Steven Pinker (as a white male) writing in the New Republic, said: ‘To hear “nigger” is to try on, however briefly, the thought that there is something contemptible about African Americans.’

. . .


Dr Emma Byrne is a scientist, journalist, and public speaker. Her BBC Radio 4 ‘Four Thought’ episode was selected as one of the “best of 2013” by the programme’s editors. She has been selected as a British Science Association Media Fellow and for the BBC Expert Women Training, and is published in CIO, Forbes, the Financial Times and e-Health Insider. Swearing is Good For You is her first book.



Swearing is Good for You. The Amazing Science of Bad Language

by Emma Byrne

get it at Amazon.com

“Which of the me’s is me?” An Unquiet Mind. A Memoir of Moods and Madness – Kay Redfield Jamison.

Kay Jamison’s story is not of someone who has succeeded despite having a severe disorder, but of someone whose particular triumphs are a consequence of her disorder. She would not have observed what she has if she had not experienced what she did. The fact that she has endured such battles helps her to understand them in others.

“The disease that has, on several occasions, nearly killed me does kill tens of thousands of people every year: most are young, most die unnecessarily, and many are among the most imaginative and gifted that we as a society have. The major clinical problem in treating manic-depressive illness is not that there are not effective medications, there are, but that patients so often refuse to take them. Freedom from the control imposed by medication loses its meaning when the only alternatives are death and insanity.”

Her remarkable achievements are a beacon of hope to those who imagine that they cannot survive their condition, much less thrive with it.

I doubt sometimes whether a quiet & unagitated life would have suited me, yet I sometimes long for it. – Byron.

For centuries, the prevailing wisdom had been that having a mental illness would prevent a doctor from providing competent care, would indicate a vulnerability that would undermine the requisite aura of medical authority, and would kill any patient’s trust. In the face of this intense stigmatization, many bright and compassionate people with mental illness avoided the field of medicine, and many physicians with mental illness lived in secrecy. Kay Redfield Jamison herself led a closeted life for many years, even as she coauthored the standard medical textbook on bipolar illness. She suffered from the anguish inherent in her illness and from the pain that comes of living a lie.

With the publication of An Unquiet Mind, she left that lie behind, revealing her condition not only to her immediate colleagues and patients, but also to the world, and becoming the first clinician ever to describe travails with bipolar illness in a memoir. It was an act of extraordinary courage, a grand risk taking infused with a touch of manic exuberance, and it broke through a firewall of prejudice. You can have bipolar illness and be a brilliant clinician; you can have bipolar illness and be a leading authority on the condition, informed by your experiences rather than blinded by them. You can have bipolar illness and still have a joyful, fruitful, and dignified life.

Kay Jamison’s story is not of someone who has succeeded despite having a severe disorder, but of someone whose particular triumphs are a consequence of her disorder. Ovid said, “The wounded doctor heals best” and Jamison’s open hearted declarations have been a salve for the wounded psyches of untold thousands of people; her unquiet mind has often soothed the minds of others. Her discernments come from a rare combination of observation and experience: she would not have observed what she has if she had not experienced what she did. The fact that she has endured such battles helps her to understand them in others, and her frankness about them offers an antidote to the pervasive shame that Cloisters so many mentally ill people in fretful isolation.

Her remarkable achievements are a beacon of hope to those who imagine that they cannot survive their condition, much less thrive with it. Those who address mental illnesses tend to do so with either rigor or empathy; Jamison attains a rare marriage of the two. Just as her clinical work has been strengthened by her personal experience, her personal experience has been informed by her academic insights.

It is different to go through manic and depressive episodes when you know everything there is to know about your condition than it is to go through them in ignorance, constantly ambushed by the apparently inexplicable.

Like many people with mental illness, Jamison has had to reckon with the impossibility of separating her personality from her condition. “Which of the me’s is me?” she asks rhetorically in these pages. She kept up a nearly willful self-ignorance for years before she succumbed to knowledge; she resisted remedy at first because she feared she might lose some of her essential self to it. It took repeated descents and ascents into torment to instigate a kind of acquiescence. She has become glad of that surrender; it has saved a life that turns out to be well worth living. As this book bleached away her erstwhile denial, it has mediated her readers’ denial, too. As a professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University and in her frequent lectures around the globe, Kay Jamison has taught a younger generation of doctors how to make sense of their patients: not merely how to treat them, but how to help them.

Though An Unquiet Mind does not provide diagnostic criteria or propose specific courses of treatment, it remains very much a book about medicine, with a touchingly fond portrait of science. Jamison expresses enormous gratitude to the doctors who have treated her and to the researchers who established the modes of treatment that have kept her alive. She engages medicine’s resonant clarities, and she tolerates the relative primitivism of our understanding of the brain.

Appreciating the biology of her illness and the mechanisms of its therapies allowed her to achieve a truce with her bipolar illness, and science informed her choice to speak openly about her skirmishes with it. That peace has not entirely precluded further episodes, but it makes them easier to tolerate when they come. Equally, it has given her the courage to stay on medication and the resilience to sustain other forms of self-care.

You can feel in Jamison’s writing a bracing honesty unmarred by self-pity. It seems clear Jamison is not by nature an exhibitionist, and making so much of her private life into public property cannot have been easy for her. On every page, you sense the resolve it has required. Her book differs from much confessional writing in that, although she describes certain experiences in agonizing detail, she maintains a vocabulary of discretion. An Unquiet Mind may have been intended as a book about an illness, not about a life, but it is both. There is satisfaction in making your affliction useful to other people; it redeems what seemed in the instance to be useless experiences. That insistence on making something good out of something bad is the vital force in her writing.

I met Kay Jamison in 1995, shortly after the publication of An Unquiet Mind, when I had first decided to write about depression. I contacted her to request an interview, and she suggested we have lunch; she then invited me to my first serious scientific conference, a suicide symposium she had organized, attended by the leading figures in the field. Her kindness to me in the early stages of my research points to a personal generosity that mirrors the brave generosity of her books. The forbearance that has made her a good clinician and a good writer also makes her a good friend.

In the years since then, Jamison has produced a corpus of work that, in a very different kind of bipolarity, limns the glittering revelations of psychosis only to return to its perilous ordeals. Touched with Fire (1993) had already chronicled the artistic achievements of people with bipolar illness; Night Falls Fast (1999) tackles the impossible subject of suicide; Exuberance (2004) tells us how unipolar mania has generated many intellectual and artistic breakthroughs; and Nothing was the Same (2009) is a closely observed and deeply personal account of losing her second husband to cancer, a journey complicated by her unreliable moods. Her illness runs through these books even when it is not her explicit topic. But that recurrent theme does not narrow the books into ego studies; instead, it makes them startlingly, powerfully intimate.

Jamison consistently evinces a romantic attachment to language itself. Her sentences flow out in an often poetic rapture, and she displays a sustaining love for the poetry of others, quoting it by the apposite yard. Few doctors know poetry so well, and few poets understand so much biology, and Jamison serves as a translator between humanism and science, which are so often disparate vocabularies for the same phenomena. While poetry inflects her literary voice, it sits comfortably beside a sense of humor. Irony is among her best defenses against gloom, and the zing of her comic asides makes reading about unbearable things a great deal more bearable. The crossing point of precision, luminosity, and hilarity may be the safest domain for an inconsistent mind, a nexus of relief for someone whose stoicism cannot fully assuage her distress.

Two decades after its publication, An Unquiet Mind remains fresh. There’s been a bit more science in the field and a great deal of social change regarding mental illness, change this book helped to create: a society in which what was relentlessly shameful is more easily and frequently acknowledged. The book delineates not how to treat the condition, but how to live with the condition and its treatments, and that remains relevant even as actual treatments evolve.

Jamison does not stint on her own despair, but she has constructed meaning and built an identity from it. While she might not have opted for this illness, neither does she entirely regret it; she prefers, as she writes so movingly, a life of passionate turbulence to one of tedious calm. Learning to appreciate the things you also regret makes for a good way forward. If you have bipolar illness, this book will help you to forgive yourself for everything that has gone awry; if you do not, it will perhaps show how a steely tenacity can imbue disasters with value, a capacity that stands to enrich any and every life.

Andrew Solomon

Kay Redfield Jamison


When it’s two o’clock in the morning, and you’re manic, even the UCLA Medical Center has a certain appeal. The hospital, ordinarily a cold clotting of uninteresting buildings, became for me, that fall morning not quite twenty years ago, a focus of my finely wired, exquisitely alert nervous system. With vibrissae twinging, antennae perked, eyes fast forwarding and fly faceted, I took in everything around me. I was on the run. Not just on the run but fast and furious on the run, darting back and forth across the hospital parking lot trying to use up a boundless, restless, manic energy. I was running fast, but slowly going mad.

The man I was with, a colleague from the medical school, had stopped running an hour earlier and was, he said impatiently, exhausted. This, to a saner mind, would not have been surprising: the usual distinction between day and night had long since disappeared for the two of us, and the endless hours of scotch, brawling, and fallings about in laughter had taken an obvious, if not final, toll. We should have been sleeping or working, publishing not perishing, reading journals, writing in charts, or drawing tedious scientific graphs that no one would read.

Suddenly a police car pulled up. Even in my less than totally lucid state of mind I could see that the officer had his hand on his gun as he got out of the car. “What in the hell are you doing running around the parking lot at this hour?” he asked. A not unreasonable question. My few remaining islets of judgment reached out to one another and linked up long enough to conclude that this particular situation was going to be hard to explain. My colleague, fortunately, was thinking far better than I was and managed to reach down into some deeply intuitive part of his own and the world’s collective unconscious and said, “We’re both on the faculty in the psychiatry department.” The policeman looked at us, smiled, went back to his squad car, and drove away. Being professors of psychiatry explained everything.

Within a month of signing my appointment papers to become an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles, I was well on my way to madness; it was 1974, and I was twenty-eight years old. Within three months I was manic beyond recognition and just beginning a long, costly personal war against a medication that I would, in a few years’ time, be strongly encouraging others to take. My illness, and my struggles against the drug that ultimately saved my life and restored my sanity, had been years in the making.

For as long as I can remember I was frighteningly, although often wonderfully, beholden to moods. Intensely emotional as a child, mercurial as a young girl, first severely depressed as an adolescent, and then unrelentingly caught up in the cycles of manicdepressive illness by the time I began my professional life, I became, both by necessity and intellectual inclination, a student of moods. It has been the only way I know to understand, indeed to accept, the illness I have; it also has been the only way I know to try and make a difference in the lives of others who also suffer from mood disorders.

The disease that has, on several occasions, nearly killed me does kill tens of thousands of people every year: most are young, most die unnecessarily, and many are among the most imaginative and gifted that we as a society have.

The Chinese believe that before you can conquer a beast you first must make it beautiful. In some strange way, I have tried to do that with manic-depressive illness. It has been a fascinating, albeit deadly, enemy and companion; I have found it to be seductively complicated, a distillation both of what is finest in our natures, and of what is most dangerous. In order to contend with it, I first had to know it in all of its moods and infinite disguises, understand its real and imagined powers. Because my illness seemed at first simply to be an extension of myself, that is to say, of my ordinarily changeable moods, energies, and enthusiasms, I perhaps gave it at times too much quarter. And, because I thought I ought to be able to handle my increasingly violent mood swings by myself, for the first ten years I did not seek any kind of treatment. Even after my condition became a medical emergency, I still intermittently resisted the medications that both my training and clinical research expertise told me were the only sensible way to deal with the illness I had.

My manias, at least in their early and mild forms, were absolutely intoxicating states that gave rise to great personal pleasure, an incomparable flow of thoughts, and a ceaseless energy that allowed the translation of new ideas into papers and projects. Medications not only cut into these fast-flowing, highflying times, they also brought with them seemingly intolerable side effects. it took me far too long to realize that lost years and relationships cannot be recovered, that damage done to oneself and others cannot always be put right again, and that freedom from the control imposed by medication loses its meaning when the only alternatives are death and insanity.

The war that I waged against myself is not an uncommon one. The major clinical problem in treating manic-depressive illness is not that there are not effective medications, there are, but that patients so often refuse to take them. Worse yet, because of a lack of information, poor medical advice, stigma, or fear of personal and professional reprisals, they do not seek treatment at all.

Manic-depression distorts moods and thoughts, incites dreadful behaviors, destroys the basis of rational thought, and too often erodes the desire and will to live. It is an illness that is biological in its origins, yet one that feels psychological in the experience of it; an illness that is unique in conferring advantage and pleasure, yet one that brings in its wake almost unendurable suffering and, not infrequently, suicide.

I am fortunate that I have not died from my illness, fortunate in having received the best medical care available, and fortunate in having the friends, colleagues, and family that I do. Because of this, I have in turn tried, as best I could, to use my own experiences of the disease to inform my research, teaching, clinical practice, and advocacy work.

Through writing and teaching I have hoped to persuade my colleagues of the paradoxical core of this quicksilver illness that can both kill and create; and, along with many others, have tried to change public attitudes about psychiatric illnesses in general and manic depressive illness in particular. It has been difficult at times to weave together the scientific discipline of my intellectual field with the more compelling realities of my own emotional experiences. And yet it has been from this binding of raw emotion to the more distanced eye of clinical science that I feel I have obtained the freedom to live the kind of life I want, and the human experiences necessary to try and make a difference in public awareness and clinical practice.

I have had many concerns about writing a book that so explicitly describes my own attacks of mania, depression, and psychosis, as well as my problems acknowledging the need for ongoing medication. Clinicians have been, for obvious reasons of licensing and hospital privileges, reluctant to make their psychiatric problems known to others. These concerns are often well warranted.

I have no idea what the longterm effects of discussing such issues so openly will be on my personal and professional life, but, whatever the consequences, they are bound to be better than continuing to be silent. I am tired of hiding, tired of misspent and knotted energies, tired of the hypocrisy, and tired of acting as though I have something to hide.

One is what one is, and the dishonesty of hiding behind a degree, or a title, or any manner and collection of words, is still exactly that: dishonest. Necessary, perhaps, but dishonest. I continue to have concerns about my decision to be public about my illness, but one of the advantages of having had manic-depressive illness for more than thirty years is that very little seems insurmountably difficult. Much like crossing the Bay Bridge when there is a storm over the Chesapeake, one may be terrified to go toward, but there is no question of going back. I find myself somewhat inevitably taking a certain solace in Robert Lowell’s essential question, Yet why not say what happened?

Part One


Into the Sun

I was standing with my head back, one pigtail caught between my teeth, listening to the jet overhead. The noise was loud, unusually so, which meant that it was close. My elementary school was near Andrews Air Force Base, just outside Washington; many of us were pilots’ kids, so the sound was a matter of routine. Being routine, however, didn’t take away from the magic, and I instinctively looked up from the playground to wave. I knew, of course, that the pilot couldn’t see me, I always knew that, just as I knew that even if he could see me the odds were that it wasn’t actually my father. But it was one of those things one did, and anyway I loved any and all excuses just to stare up into the skies. My father, a career Air Force officer, was first and foremost a scientist and only secondarily a pilot. But he loved to fly, and, because he was a meteorologist, both his mind and his soul ended up being in the skies. Like my father, I looked up rather more than I looked out.

When I would say to him that the Navy and the Army were so much older than the Air Force, had so much more tradition and legend, he would say, Yes, that’s true, but the Air Force is the future. Then he would always add: And we can fly. This statement of creed would occasionally be followed by an enthusiastic rendering of the Air Force song, fragments of which remain with me to this day, nested together, somewhat improbably, with phrases from Christmas carols, early poems, and bits and pieces of the Book of Common Prayer: all having great mood and meaning from childhood, and all still retaining the power to quicken the pulses.

So I would listen and believe and, when I would hear the words “Off we go into the wild blue yonder,” I would think that “wild” and “yonder” were among the most wonderful words I had ever heard; likewise, I would feel the total exhilaration of the phrase “Climbing high, into the sun” and know instinctively that I was a part of those who loved the vastness of the sky.

The noise of the jet had become louder, and I saw the other children in my second grade class suddenly dart their heads upward. The plane was coming in very low, then it streaked past us, scarcely missing the playground. As we stood there clumped together and absolutely terrified, it flew into the trees, exploding directly in front of us. The ferocity of the crash could be felt and heard in the plane’s awful impact; it also could be seen in the frightening yet terrible lingering loveliness of the flames that followed. Within minutes, it seemed, mothers were pouring onto the playground to reassure children that it was not their fathers; fortunately for my brother and sister and myself, it was not ours either. Over the next few days it became clear, from the release of the young pilot’s final message to the control tower before he died, that he knew he could save his own life by bailing out. He also knew, however, that by doing so he risked that his unaccompanied plane would fall onto the playground and kill those of us who were there.

The dead pilot became a hero, transformed into a scorchingly vivid, completely impossible ideal for what was meant by the concept of duty. It was an impossible ideal, but all the more compelling and haunting because of its very unobtainability. The memory of the crash came back to me many times over the years, as a reminder both of how one aspires after and needs such ideals, and of how killingly difficult it is to achieve them. I never again looked at the sky and saw only vastness and beauty. From that afternoon on I saw that death was also and always there.

Although, like all military families, we moved a lot, by the fifth grade my older brother, sister, and I had attended four different elementary schools, and we had lived in Florida, Puerto Rico, California, Tokyo, and Washington, twice, our parents, especially my mother, kept life as secure, warm, and constant as possible. My brother was the eldest and the steadiest of the three of us children and my staunch ally, despite the three year difference in our ages. I idolized him growing up and often trailed along after him, trying very hard to be inconspicuous, when he and his friends would wander off to play baseball or cruise the neighborhood. He was smart, fair, and self-confident, and I always felt that there was a bit of extra protection coming my way whenever he was around. My relationship with my sister, who was only thirteen months older than me, was more complicated. She was the truly beautiful one in the family, with dark hair and wonderful eyes, who from the earliest times was almost painfully aware of everything around her. She had a charismatic way, a fierce temper, very black and passing moods, and little tolerance for the conservative military lifestyle that she felt imprisoned us all. She led her own life, defiant, and broke out with abandon whenever and wherever she could. She hated high school and, when we were living in Washington, frequently skipped classes to go to the Smithsonian or the Army Medical Museum or just to smoke and drink beer with her friends.

She resented me, feeling that I was, as she mockingly put it, “the fair-haired one”, a sister, she thought, to whom friends and schoolwork came too easily, passing far too effortlessly through life, protected from reality by an absurdly optimistic view of people and life. Sandwiched between my brother, who was a natural athlete and who never seemed to see less-than-perfect marks on his college and graduate admission examinations, and me, who basically loved school and was vigorously involved in sports and friends and class activities, she stood out as the member of the family who fought back and rebelled against what she saw as a harsh and difficult world. She hated military life, hated the constant upheaval and the need to make new friends, and felt the family politeness was hypocrisy.

Perhaps because my own violent struggles with black moods did not occur until I was older, I was given a longer time to inhabit a more benign, less threatening, and, indeed to me, a quite wonderful world of high adventure. This world, I think, was one my sister had never known. The long and important years of childhood and early adolescence were, for the most part, very happy ones for me, and they afforded me a solid base of warmth, friendship, and confidence. They were to be an extremely powerful amulet, a potent and positive countervailing force against future unhappiness. My sister had no such years, no such amulets. Not surprisingly, perhaps, when both she and I had to deal with our respective demons, my sister saw the darkness as being within and part of herself, the family, and the world. I, instead, saw it as a stranger; however lodged within my mind and soul the darkness became, it almost always seemed an outside force that was at war with my natural self.

My sister, like my father, could be vastly charming: fresh, original, and devastatingly witty, she also was blessed with an extraordinary sense of aesthetic design. She was not an easy or untroubled person, and as she grew older her troubles grew with her, but she had an enormous artistic imagination and soul. She also could break your heart and then provoke your temper beyond any reasonable level of endurance. Still, I always felt a bit like pieces of earth to my sister’s fire and flames.

For his part, my father, when involved, was often magically involved: ebullient, funny, curious about almost everything, and able to describe with delight and originality the beauties and phenomena of the natural world. A snowflake was never just a snowflake, nor a cloud just a cloud. They became events and characters, and part of a lively and oddly ordered universe. When times were good and his moods were at high tide, his infectious enthusiasm would touch everything. Music would fill the house, wonderful new pieces of jewelry would appear, a moonstone ring, a delicate bracelet of cabochon rubies, a pendant fashioned from a moody sea, green stone set in a swirl of gold, and we’d all settle into our listening mode, for we knew that soon we would be hearing a very great deal about whatever new enthusiasm had taken him over. Sometimes it would be a discourse based on a passionate conviction that the future and salvation of the world was to be found in windmills; sometimes it was that the three of us children simply had to take Russian lessons because Russian poetry was so inexpressibly beautiful in the original.



An Unquiet Mind. A Memoir of Moods and Madness

by Kay Redfield Jamison

get it at Amazon.com

The Great God of Depression. How mental illness stopped being a terrible dark secret – Pagan Kennedy * DARKNESS VISIBLE. A MEMOIR of MADNESS – William Styron.

The pain of severe depression is quite unimaginable to those who have not suffered it, and it kills in many instances because its anguish can no longer be borne.

The most honest authorities face up squarely to the fact that serious depression is not readily treatable. Failure of alleviation is one of the most distressing factors of the disorder as it reveals itself to the victim, and one that helps situate it squarely in the category of grave diseases.

One by one, the normal brain circuits begin to drown, causing some of the functions of the body and nearly all of those of instinct and intellect to slowly disconnect.

Inadvertently I had helped unlock a closet from which many souls were eager to come out. It is possible to emerge from even the deepest abyss of despair and “once again behold the stars.”

Nearly 30 years ago, the author William Styron outed himself as mentally ill. “My days were pervaded by a gray drizzle of unrelenting horror,” he wrote in a New York Times op-ed article, describing the deep depression that had landed him in the psych ward. He compared the agony of mental illness to that of a heart attack. Pain is pain, Whether it’s in the mind or the body. So why, he asked, were depressed people treated as pariahs?

A confession of mental illness might not seem like a big deal now, but it was back then. In the 1980s, “if you were depressed, it was a terrible dark secret that you hid from the world,” according to Andrew Solomon, a historian of mental illness and author of “The Noonday Demon.” “People with depression were seen as pathetic and even dangerous. You didn’t let them near your kids.”

From William Styron’s Op-Ed on Depression. “In the popular mind, suicide is usually the work of a coward or sometimes, paradoxically, a deed of great courage, but it is neither; the torment that precipitates the act makes it often one of blind necessity.”

The response to Mr. Styron’s op-ed was immediate. Letters flooded into The New York Times. The readers thanked him, blurted out their stories and begged him for more. “Inadvertently I had helped unlock a closet from which many souls were eager to come out,” Mr. Styron wrote later.

“It was like the #MeToo movement,” Alexandra Styron, the author’s daughter, told me. “Somebody comes out and says: ‘This happened. This is real. This is what it feels like.’ And it just unleashed the floodgates.”

Readers were electrified by Mr. Styron’s confession in part because he inhabited a storybook world of glamour. After his novel “Sophie’s Choice” was adapted into a blockbuster movie in 1982, Mr. Styron rocketed from mere literary success to Hollywood fame. Meryl Streep, who won an Oscar for playing Sophie, became a lifelong friend, adding to Mr. Styron’s roster of illustrious buddies, from “Jimmy” Baldwin to Arthur Miller. He appeared at gala events with his silver hair upswept in a genius-y pompadour and his face ruddy from summers on Martha’s Vineyard. And yet he had been so depressed that he had eyed the knives in his kitchen with suicide-lust.

William Styron

James L.W. West, Mr. Styron’s friend and biographer, told me that Mr. Styron had never wanted to become “the guru of depression.” But after his article, he felt he had a duty to take on that role.

His famous memoir of depression, “Darkness Visible,” came out in October 1990. It was Mr. Styron’s curiosity about his own mind, and his determination to use himself as a case study to understand a mysterious disease, that gave the book its political power. “Darkness Visible” demonstrated that patients could be the owners and describers of their mental disorders, upending centuries of medical tradition in which the mentally ill were discredited and shamed. The brain scientist Alice Flaherty, who was Mr. Styron’s close friend and doctor, has called him “the great god of depression” because his influence on her field was so profound. His book became required reading in some medical schools, where physicians were finally being trained to listen to their patients.

Mr. Styron also helped to popularize a new way of looking at the brain. In his telling, suicidal depression is a physical ailment, as unconnected to the patient’s moral character as cancer. The book includes a cursory discussion of the chemistry of the brain neurotransmitters, serotonin and so forth. For many readers, it was a first introduction to scientific ideas that are now widely accepted.

For people with severe mood disorders, “Darkness Visible” became a guidebook. “I got depressed and everyone said to me: ‘You have to read the Bill Styron book. You have to read the Bill Styron book. Have you read the Bill Styron book? Let me give you a copy of the Bill Styron book,”’ Mr. Solomon told me. “On the one hand an absolutely harrowing read, and on the other hand one very much rooted in hope.”

The book benefited from perfect timing. It appeared contemporaneously with the introduction of Prozac and other mood disorder medications with fewer side effects than older psychiatric drugs. Relentlessly advertised on TV and in magazines, they seemed to promise protection. And though Mr. Styron himself probably did not take Prozac and was rather skeptical about drugs, his book became the bible of that era.

He also inspired dozens of writers including Mr. Solomon and Dr. Flaherty to chronicle their own struggles. In the 1990s, bookstores were crowded with mental-illness memoirs, Kay Redfield Jamison’s “An Unquiet Mind,” Susanna Kaysen’s “Girl, Interrupted” and Elizabeth Wurtzel’s “Prozac Nation,” to name a few. You read; you wrote; you survived.

It was an optimistic time. In 1999, with “Darkness Visible” in its 25th printing, Mr. Styron told Diane Rehm in an NPR interview: “I’m in very good shape, if I may be so bold as to say that.” He continued, “It’s as if I had purged myself of this pack of demons.”

It wouldn’t last. In the summer of 2000, he crashed again. In the last six years of his life, he would check into mental hospitals and endure two rounds of electroshock therapy.

Mr. Styron’s story mirrors the larger trends in American mental health over the past few decades. During the exuberance of the 1990s, it seemed possible that drugs would one day wipe out depression, making suicide a rare occurrence. But that turned out to be an illusion. In fact, the American suicide rate has continued to climb since the beginning of the 21st century.

We don’t know why this is happening, though we do have a few clues. Easy access to guns is probably contributing to the epidemic: Studies show that when people are able to reach for a firearm, a momentary urge to self-destruct is more likely to turn fatal. Oddly enough, climate change may also be to blame: A new study shows that rising temperatures can make people more prone to suicide.

With suicidal depression so widespread, we find ourselves needing new ways to talk about it, name its depredations and help families cope with it. Mr. Styron’s mission was to invent this new language of survival, but he did so at high cost to his own mental health.

When he revealed his history of depression, he inadvertently set a trap for himself. He became an icon of recovery. His widow, Rose Styron, told me that readers would call the house at all hours when they felt suicidal, and Mr. Styron would counsel them. He always took those calls, even when they woke him at 3 in the morning.

When he plunged into depression again in 2000, Mr. Styron worried about disappointing his fans. “When he crashed, he felt so guilty because he thought he’d let down all the people he had encouraged in ‘Darkness Visible,’” Ms. Styron told me. And he became painfully aware that if he ever did commit suicide, that private act would ripple out all over the world. The consequences would be devastating for his readers, some of whom might even decide to imitate him.

And so, one dark day in the summer of 2000, he wrote up a statement to be released in the event of his suicide. “I hope that readers of ‘Darkness Visible’ past, present and future will not be discouraged by the manner of my dying,” his message began. It was an attempt to inoculate his fans from the downstream effects of his own selfdestruction.

Mr. Styron’s family described this sense of his that succumbing to depression a second time made him a fraud.



William Styron

For the thing which I greatly feared is come upon me, and that which I was afraid of Is come unto me. I was not in safety, neither had I rest, neither was I quiet; yet trouble came. -Job


IN PARIS ON A CHILLY EVENING LATE IN OCTOBER OF 1985 I first became fully aware that the struggle with the disorder in my mind, a struggle which had engaged me for several months, might have a fatal outcome. The moment of revelation came as the car in which I was riding moved down a rain slick street not far from the Champs Elysées and slid past a dully glowing neon sign that read HOTEL WASHINGTON. I had not seen that hotel in nearly thirty-five years, since the spring of 1952, when for several nights it had become my initial Parisian roosting place.

In the first few months of my Wanderjahr, I had come down to Paris by train from Copenhagen, and landed at the Hotel Washington through the whimsical determination of a New York travel agent. In those days the hotel was one of the many damp, plain hostelries made for tourists, chiefly American, of very modest means who, if they were like me, colliding nervously for the first time with the French and their droll kinks, would always remember how the exotic bidet, positioned solidly in the drab bedroom, along with the toilet far down the ill-lit hallway, virtually defined the chasm between Gallic and Anglo-Saxon cultures.

But I stayed at the Washington for only a short time. Within days I had been urged out of the place by some newly found young American friends who got me installed in an even seedier but more colorful hotel in Montparnasse, hard by Le Dome and other suitably literary hangouts. (In my mid-twenties, I had just published a first novel and was a celebrity, though one of very low rank since few of the Americans in Paris had heard of my book, let alone read it.) And over the years the Hotel Washington gradually disappeared from my consciousness.

It reappeared, however, that October night when I passed the gray stone facade in a drizzle, and the recollection of my arrival so many years before started flooding back, causing me to feel that I had come fatally full circle. I recall saying to myself that when I left Paris for New York the next morning it would be a matter of forever. I was shaken by the certainty with which I accepted the idea that I would never see France again, just as I would never recapture a lucidity that was slipping away from me with terrifying speed.

Only days before I had concluded that I was suffering from a serious depressive illness, and was floundering helplessly in my efforts to deal with it. I wasn’t cheered by the festive occasion that had brought me to France. Of the many dreadful manifestations of the disease, both physical and psychological, a sense of self-hatred, or, put less categorically, a failure of self-esteem, is one of the most universally experienced symptoms, and I had suffered more and more from a general feeling of worthlessness as the malady had progressed.

My dank joylessness was therefore all the more ironic because I had flown on a rushed four day trip to Paris in order to accept an award which should have sparklingly restored my ego. Earlier that summer I received word that I had been chosen to receive the Prix Mondial Cino del Duca, given annually to an artist or scientist whose work reflects themes or principles of a certain “humanism.” The prize was established in memory of Cino del Duca, an immigrant from Italy who amassed a fortune just before and after World War II by printing and distributing cheap magazines, principally comic books, though later branching out into publications of quality; he became proprietor of the newspaper Paris-Jour.

He also produced movies and was a prominent racehorse owner, enjoying the pleasure of having many winners in France and abroad. Aiming for nobler cultural satisfactions, he evolved into a renowned philanthropist and along the way established a book publishing firm that began to produce works of literary merit (by chance, my first novel, Lie Down in Darkness, was one of del Duca’s offerings, in a translation entitled Un Lit de Ténébres); by the time of his death in 1967 this house, Editions Mondiales, became an important entity of a multifold empire that was rich yet prestigious enough for there to be scant memory of its comic book origins when del Duca’s widow, Simone, created a foundation whose chief function was the annual bestowal of the eponymous award.

The Prix Mondial Cino del Duca has become greatly respected in France, a nation pleasantly besotted with cultural prize giving, not only for its eclecticism and the distinction shown in the choice of its recipients but for the openhandedness of the prize itself, which that year amounted to approximately $25,000. Among the winners during the past twenty years have been Konrad Lorenz, Alejo Carpentier, Jean Anouilh, Ignazio Silone, Andrei Sakharov, Jorge Luis Borges and one American, Lewis Mumford. (No women as yet, feminists take note.)

As an American, I found it especially hard not to feel honored by inclusion in their company. While the giving and receiving of prizes usually induce from all sources an unhealthy uprising of false modesty, backbiting, selftorture and envy, my own view is that certain awards, though not necessary, can be very nice to receive. The Prix del Duca was to me so straightforwardly nice that any extensive self-examination seemed silly, and so I accepted gratefully, writing in reply that I would honor the reasonable requirement that I be present for the ceremony. At that time I looked forward to a leisurely trip, not a hasty turnaround. Had I been able to foresee my state of mind as the date of the award approached, I would not have accepted at all.

Depression is a disorder of mood, so mysteriously painful and elusive in the way it becomes known to the self, to the mediating intellect, as to verge close to being beyond description.

It thus remains nearly incomprehensible to those who have not experienced it in its extreme mode, although the gloom, “the blues” which people go through occasionally and associate with the general hassle of everyday existence are of such prevalence that they do give many individuals a hint of the illness in its catastrophic form. But at the time of which I write I had descended far past those familiar, manageable doldrums. In Paris, I am able to see now, I was at a critical stage in the development of the disease, situated at an ominous way station between its unfocused stirrings earlier that summer and the near violent denouement of December, which sent me into the hospital. I will later attempt to describe the evolution of this malady, from its earliest origins to my eventual hospitalization and recovery, but the Paris trip has retained a notable meaning for me.

On the day of the award ceremony, which was to take place at noon and be followed by a formal luncheon, I woke up at midmorning in my room at the Hétel Pont Royal commenting to myself that I felt reasonably sound, and I passed the good word along to my wife, Rose. Aided by the minor tranquilizer Halcion, I had managed to defeat my insomnia and get a few hours’ sleep. Thus I was in fair spirits.

But such wan cheer was an habitual pretense which I knew meant very little, for I was certain to feel ghastly before nightfall. I had come to a point where I was carefully monitoring each phase of my deteriorating condition. My acceptance of the illness followed several months of denial during which, at first, I had ascribed the malaise and restlessness and sudden fits of anxiety to withdrawal from alcohol; I had abruptly abandoned whiskey and all other intoxicants that June.

During the course of my worsening emotional climate I had read a certain amount on the subject of depression, both in books tailored for the layman and in weightier professional works including the psychiatrists’ bible, DSM (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association). Throughout much of my life I have been compelled, perhaps unwisely, to become an autodidact in medicine, and have accumulated a better than average amateur’s knowledge about medical matters (to which many of my friends, surely unwisely, have often deferred), and so it came as an astonishment to me that I was close to a total ignoramus about depression, which can be as serious a medical affair as diabetes or cancer. Most likely, as an incipient depressive, I had always subconsciously rejected or ignored the proper knowledge; it cut too close to the psychic bone, and I shoved it aside as an unwelcome addition to my store of information.

At any rate, during the few hours when the depressive state itself eased off long enough to permit the luxury of concentration, I had recently filled this vacuum with fairly extensive reading and I had absorbed many fascinating and troubling facts, which, however, I could not put to practical use.

The most honest authorities face up squarely to the fact that serious depression is not readily treatable. Unlike, let us say, diabetes, where immediate measures taken to rearrange the body’s adaptation to glucose can dramatically reverse a dangerous process and bring it under control, depression in its major stages possesses no quickly available remedy: failure of alleviation is one of the most distressing factors of the disorder as it reveals itself to the victim, and one that helps situate it squarely in the category of grave diseases.

Except in those maladies strictly designated as malignant or degenerative, we expect some kind of treatment and eventual amelioration, by pills or physical therapy or diet or surgery, with a logical progression from the initial relief of symptoms to final cure. Frighteningly, the layman sufferer from major depression, taking a peek into some of the many books currently on the market, will find much in the way of theory and symptomatology and very little that legitimately suggests the possibility of quick rescue. Those that do claim an easy way out are glib and most likely fraudulent. There are decent popular works which intelligently point the way toward treatment and cure, demonstrating how certain therapies, psychotherapy or pharmacology, or a combination of these, can indeed restore people to health in all but the most persistent and devastating cases; but the wisest books among them underscore the hard truth that serious depressions do not disappear overnight.

All of this emphasizes an essential though difficult reality which I think needs stating at the outset of my own chronicle: the disease of depression remains a great mystery. It has yielded its secrets to science far more reluctantly than many of the other major ills besetting us. The intense and sometimes comically strident factionalism that exists in present day psychiatry, the schism between the believers in psychotherapy and the adherents of pharmacology, resembles the medical quarrels of the eighteenth century (to bleed or not to bleed) and almost defines in itself the inexplicable nature of depression and the difficulty of its treatment. As a clinician in the field told me honestly and, I think, with a striking deftness of analogy: “If you compare our knowledge with Columbus’s discovery of America, America is yet unknown; we are still down on that little island in the Bahamas.”

In my reading I had learned, for example, that in at least one interesting respect my own case was atypical. Most people who begin to suffer from the illness are laid low in the morning, with such malefic effect that they are unable to get out of bed. They feel better only as the day wears on. But my situation was just the reverse. While I was able to rise and function almost normally during the earlier part of the day, I began to sense the onset of the symptoms at midafternoon or a little later, gloom crowding in on me, a sense of dread and alienation and, above all, stifling anxiety. I suspect that it is basically a matter of indifference whether one suffers the most in the morning or the evening: if these states of excruciating near paralysis are similar, as they probably are, the question of timing would seem to be academic. But it was no doubt the turnabout of the usual daily onset of symptoms that allowed me that morning in Paris to proceed without mishap, feeling more or less self-possessed, to the gloriously ornate palace on the Right Bank that houses the Fondation Cino del Duca. There, in a rococo salon, I was presented with the award before a small crowd of French cultural figures, and made my speech of acceptance with what I felt was passable aplomb, stating that while I was donating the bulk of my prize money to various organizations fostering French-American goodwill, including the American Hospital in Neuilly, there was a limit to altruism (this spoken jokingly) and so I hoped it would not be taken amiss if I held back a small portion for myself.

What I did not say, and which was no joke, was that the amount I was withholding was to pay for two tickets the next day on the Concorde, so that I might return speedily with Rose to the United States, where just a few days before I had made an appointment to see a psychiatrist. For reasons that I’m sure had to do with a reluctance to accept the reality that my mind was dissolving, I had avoided seeking psychiatric aid during the past weeks, as my distress intensified. But I knew I couldn’t delay the confrontation indefinitely, and when I did finally make contact by telephone with a highly recommended therapist, he encouraged me to make the Paris trip, telling me that he would see me as soon as I returned. I very much needed to get back, and fast.

Despite the evidence that I was in serious difficulty, I wanted to maintain the rosy view. A lot of the literature available concerning depression is, as I say, breezily optimistic, spreading assurances that nearly all depressive states will be stabilized or reversed if only the suitable antidepressant can be found; the reader is of course easily swayed by promises of quick remedy. In Paris, even as I delivered my remarks, I had a need for the day to be over, felt a consuming urgency to fly to America and the office of the doctor, who would whisk my malaise away with his miraculous medications. I recollect that moment clearly now, and am hardly able to believe that I possessed such ingenuous hope, or that I could have been so unaware of the trouble and peril that lay ahead.

Simone del Duca, a large dark-haired woman of queenly manner, was understandably incredulous at first, and then enraged, when after the presentation ceremony I told her that I could not join her at lunch upstairs in the great mansion, along with a dozen or so members of the Académie Frangaise, who had chosen me for the prize. My refusal was both emphatic and simpleminded; I told her point-blank that I had arranged instead to have lunch at a restaurant with my French publisher, Frangoise Gallimard. Of course this decision on my part was outrageous; it had been announced months before to me and everyone else concerned that a luncheon, moreover, a luncheon in my honor, was part of the day’s pageantry. But my behavior was really the result of the illness, which had progressed far enough to produce some of its most famous and sinister hallmarks: confusion, failure of mental focus and lapse of memory. At a later stage my entire mind would be dominated by anarchic disconnections; as I have said, there was now something that resembled bifurcation of mood: lucidity of sorts in the early hours of the day, gathering murk in the afternoon and evening. It must have been during the previous evening’s murky distractedness that I made the luncheon date with Frangoise Gallimard, forgetting my del Duca obligations. That decision continued to completely master my thinking, creating in me such obstinate determination that now I was able to blandly insult the worthy Simone del Duca. “Alors!” she exclaimed to me, and her face flushed angrily as she whirled in a stately volte-face, “au revoir!”

Suddenly I was flabbergasted, stunned with horror at what I had done. I fantasized a table at which sat the hostess and the Académie Frangaise, the guest of honor at La Coupole. I implored Madame’s assistant, a bespectacled woman with a clipboard and an ashen, mortified expression, to try to reinstate me: it was all a terrible mistake, a mixup, a malentendu. And then I blurted some words that a lifetime of general equilibrium, and a smug belief in the impregnability of my psychic health, had prevented me from believing I could ever utter; I was chilled as I heard myself speak them to this perfect stranger.

“I’m sick,” I said, “un probleme psychiatrique.”

Madame del Duca was magnanimous in accepting my apology and the lunch went off without further strain, aIthough I couldn’t completely rid myself of the suspicion, as we chatted somewhat stiffly, that my benefactress was still disturbed by my conduct and thought me a weird number. The lunch was a long one, and when it was over I felt myself entering the afternoon shadows with their encroaching anxiety and dread. A television crew from one of the national channels was waiting (I had forgotten about them, too), ready to take me to the newly opened Picasso Museum, where I was supposed to be filmed looking at the exhibits and exchanging comments with Rose.

This turned out to be, as I knew it would, not a captivating promenade but a demanding struggle, a major ordeal. By the time we arrived at the museum, having dealt with heavy traffic, it was past four o’clock and my brain had begun to endure its familiar siege: panic and dislocation, and a sense that my thought processes were being engulfed by a toxic and unnameable tide that obliterated any enjoyable response to the living world. This is to say more specifically that instead of pleasure, certainly instead of the pleasure I should be having in this sumptuous showcase of bright genius, I was feeling in my mind a sensation close to, but indescribably different from, actual pain.

This leads me to touch again on the elusive nature of such distress. That the word “indescribable” should present itself is not fortuitous, since it has to be emphasized that if the pain were readily describable most of the countless sufferers from this ancient affliction would have been able to confidently depict for their friends and loved ones (even their physicians) some of the actual dimensions of their torment, and perhaps elicit a comprehension that has been generally lacking; such incomprehension has usually been due not to a failure of sympathy but to the basic inability of healthy people to imagine a form of torment so alien to everyday experience.

For myself, the pain is most closely connected to drowning or suffocation, but even these images are off the mark. William James, who battled depression for many years, gave up the search for an adequate portrayal, implying its near-impossibility when he wrote in The Varieties of Religious Experience:

“It is a positive and active anguish, a sort of psychical neuralgia wholly unknown to normal life.”

The pain persisted during my museum tour and reached a crescendo in the next few hours when, back at the hotel, I fell onto the bed and lay gazing at the ceiling, nearly immobilized and in a trance of supreme discomfort. Rational thought was usually absent from my mind at such times, hence trance.

I can think of no more apposite word for this state of being, a condition of helpless stupor in which cognition was replaced by that “positive and active anguish.”

And one of the most unendurable aspects of such an interlude was the inability to sleep. It had been my custom of a near lifetime, like that of vast numbers of people, to settle myself into a soothing nap in the late afternoon, but the disruption of normal sleep patterns is a notoriously devastating feature of depression; to the injurious sleeplessness with which I had been afflicted each night was added the insult of this afternoon insomnia, diminutive by comparison but all the more horrendous because it struck during the hours of the most intense misery. It had become clear that I would never be granted even a few minutes’ relief from my full-time exhaustion. I clearly recall thinking, as I lay there while Rose sat nearby reading, that my afternoons and evenings were becoming almost measurably worse, and that this episode was the worst to date. But I somehow managed to reassemble myself for dinner with, who else? -Francoise Gallimard, co-victim along with Simone del Duca of the frightful lunchtime contretemps.

The night was blustery and raw, with a chill wet wind blowing down the avenues, and when Rose and I met Francoise and her son and a friend at La Lorraine, a glittering brasserie not far from L’Etoile, rain was descending from the heavens in torrents. Someone in the group, sensing my state of mind, apologized for the evil night, but I recall thinking that even if this were one of those warmly scented and passionate evenings for which Paris is celebrated I would respond like the zombie I had become. The weather of depression is unmodulated, its light a brownout.

And zombielike, halfway through the dinner, I lost the del Duca prize check for $25,000. Having tucked the check in the inside breast pocket of my jacket, I let my hand stray idly to that place and realized that it was gone. Did I “intend” to lose the money? Recently I had been deeply bothered that I was not deserving of the prize. I believe in the reality of the accidents we subconsciously perpetrate on ourselves, and so how easy it was for this loss to be not loss but a form of repudiation, offshoot of that seIf-loathing (depression’s premier badge) by which I was persuaded that I could not be worthy of the prize, that I was in fact not worthy of any of the recognition that had come my way in the past few years. Whatever the reason for its disappearance, the check was gone, and its loss dovetailed well with the other failures of the dinner: my failure to have an appetite for the grand plateau de fruits de mer placed before me, failure of even forced laughter and, at last, virtually total failure of speech.

At this point the ferocious inwardness of the pain produced an immense distraction that prevented my articulating words beyond a hoarse murmur; I sensed myself turning walleyed, monosyllabic, and also I sensed my French friends becoming uneasily aware of my predicament. It was a scene from a bad Operetta by now: all of us near the floor, searching for the vanished money. Just as I signaled that it was time to go, Francoise’s son discovered the check, which had somehow slipped out of my pocket and fluttered under an adjoining table, and we went forth into the rainy night. Then, while I was riding in the car, I thought of Albert Camus and Romain Gary.


WHEN I WAS A YOUNG WRITER THERE HAD BEEN A stage where Camus, almost more than any other contemporary literary figure, radically set the tone for my own view of life and history. I read his novel The Stranger somewhat later than I should have, I was in my early thirties, but after finishing it I received the stab of recognition that proceeds from reading the work of a writer who has wedded moral passion to a style of great beauty and whose unblinking vision is capable of frightening the soul to its marrow.

The cosmic loneliness of Meursault, the hero of that novel, so haunted me that when I set out to write The Confessions of Nat Turner I was impelled to use Camus’s device of having the story flow from the point of view of a narrator isolated in his jail cell during the hours before his execution. For me there was a spiritual connection between Meursault’s frigid solitude and the plight of Nat Turner, his rebel predecessor in history by a hundred years, likewise condemned and abandoned by man and God.

Camus’s essay “Reflections on the Guillotine” is a virtually unique document, freighted with terrible and fiery logic; it is difficult to conceive of the most vengeful supporter of the death penalty retaining the same attitude after exposure to scathing truths expressed with such ardor and precision. I know my thinking was forever altered by that work, not only turning me around completely, convincing me of the essential barbarism of capital punishment, but establishing substantial claims on my conscience in regard to matters of responsibility at large. Camus was a great cleanser of my intellect, ridding me of countless sluggish ideas, and through some of the most unsettling pessimism I had ever encountered causing me to be aroused anew by life’s enigmatic promise.

The disappointment I always felt at never meeting Camus was compounded by that failure having been such a near miss. I had planned to see him in 1960, when I was traveling to France and had been told in a letter by the writer Romain Gary that he was going to arrange a dinner in Paris where I would meet Camus. The enormously gifted Gary, whom I knew slightly at the time and who later became a cherished friend, had informed me that Camus, whom he saw frequently, had read my Un Lit de Te’nebres and had admired it; I was of course greatly flattered and felt that a get-together would be a splendid happening. But before I arrived in France there came the appalling news: Camus had been in an automobile crash, and was dead at the cruelly young age of forty-six. I have almost never felt so intensely the loss of someone I didn’t know. I pondered his death endlessly. Although Camus had not been driving he supposedly knew the driver, who was the son of his publisher, to be a speed demon; so there was an element of recklessness in the accident that bore overtones of the near-suicidal, at least of a death flirtation, and it was inevitable that conjectures concerning the event should revert back to the theme of suicide in the writer’s work.

One of the century’s most famous intellectual pronouncements comes at the beginning of The Myth of Sisyphus: “There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy.” Reading this for the first time I was puzzled and continued to be throughout much of the essay, since despite the work’s persuasive logic and eloquence there was a lot that eluded me, and I always came back to grapple vainly with the initial hypothesis, unable to deal with the premise that anyone should come close to wishing to kill himself in the first place.

A later short novel, The Fall, I admired with reservations; the guilt and seIf-condemnation of the lawyer-narrator, gloomily spinning out his monologue in an Amsterdam bar, seemed a touch clamorous and excessive, but at the time of my reading I was unable to perceive that the lawyer was behaving very much like a man in the throes of clinical depression. Such was my innocence of the very existence of this disease. Camus, Romain told me, occasionally hinted at his own deep despondency and had spoken of suicide. Sometimes he spoke in jest, but the jest had the quality of sour wine, upsetting Romain. Yet apparently he made no attempts and so perhaps it was not coincidental that, despite its abiding tone of melancholy, a sense of the triumph of life over death is at the core of The Myth of Sisyphus with its austere message: in the absence of hope we must still struggle to survive, and so we doby the skin of our teeth.

It was only after the passing of some years that it seemed credible to me that Camus’s statement about suicide, and his general preoccupation with the subject, might have sprung at least as strongly from some persistent disturbance of mood as from his concerns with ethics and epistemology. Gary again discussed at length his assumptions about Camus’s depression during August of 1978, when I had lent him my guest cottage in Connecticut, and I came down from my summer home on Martha’s Vineyard to pay him a weekend visit. As we talked I felt that some of Romain’s suppositions about the seriousness of Camus’s recurring despair gained weight from the fact that he, too, had begun to suffer from depression, and he freely admitted as much. It was not incapacitating, he insisted, and he had it under control, but he felt it from time to time, this leaden and poisonous mood the color of verdigris, so incongruous in the midst of the lush New England summer. A Russian Jew born in Lithuania, Romain had always seemed possessed of an Eastern European melancholy, so it was hard to tell the difference. Nonetheless, he was hurting. He said that he was able to perceive a flicker of the desperate state of mind which had been described to him by Camus.

Gary’s situation was hardly lightened by the presence of Jean Seberg, his lowa-born actress wife, from whom he had been divorced and, I thought, long estranged. I learned that she was there because their son, Diego, was at a nearby tennis camp. Their presumed estrangement made me surprised to see her living with Romain, surprised too, no, shocked and saddened, by her appearance: all her once fragile and luminous blond beauty had disappeared into a puffy mask. She moved like a Sleepwalker, said little, and had the blank gaze of someone tranquilized (or drugged, or both) nearly to the point of catalepsy. I understood how devoted they still were, and was touched by his solicitude, both tender and paternal. Romain told me that Jean was being treated for the disorder that afflicted him, and mentioned something about antidepressant medications, but none of this registered very strongly, and also meant little.

This memory of my relative indifference is important because such indifference demonstrates powerfully the outsider’s inability to grasp the essence of the illness. Camus’s depression and now Romain Gary’s, and certainly Jean’s, were abstract ailments to me, in spite of my sympathy, and I hadn’t an inkling of its true contours or the nature of the pain so many victims experience as the mind continues in its insidious meltdown.

In Paris that October night I knew that I, too, was in the process of meltdown. And on the way to the hotel in the car I had a clear revelation. A disruption of the circadian cycle, the metabolic and glandular rhythms that are central to our workaday life, seems to be involved in many, if not most, cases of depression; this is why brutal insomnia so often occurs and is most likely why each day’s pattern of distress exhibits fairly predictable alternating periods of intensity and relief. The evening’s relief for me, an incomplete but noticeable letup, like the change from a torrential downpour to a steady shower, came in the hours after dinner time and before midnight, when the pain lifted a little and my mind would become lucid enough to focus on matters beyond the immediate upheaval convulsing my system. Naturally I looked forward to this period, for sometimes I felt close to being reasonably sane, and that night in the car I was aware of a semblance of clarity returning, along with the ability to think rational thoughts. Having been able to reminisce about Camus and Romain Gary, however, I found that my continuing thoughts were not very consoling.

The memory of Jean Seberg gripped me with sadness. A little over a year after our encounter in Connecticut she took an overdose of pills and was found dead in a car parked in a cul-de-sac off a Paris avenue, where her body had lain for many days. The following year I sat with Romain at the Brasserie Lipp during a long lunch while he told me that, despite their difficulties, his loss of Jean had so deepened his depression that from time to time he had been rendered nearly helpless. But even then I was unable to comprehend the nature of his anguish. I remembered that his hands trembled and, though he could hardly be called superannuated, he was in his mid-sixties, his voice had the wheezy sound of very old age that I now realized was, or could be, the voice of depression; in the vortex of my severest pain I had begun to develop that ancient voice myself. I never saw Romain again. Claude Gallimard, Francoise’s father, had recollected to me how, in 1980, only a few hours after another lunch where the talk between the two old friends had been composed and casual, even lighthearted, certainly anything but somber, Romain Gary, twice winner of the Prix Goncourt (one of these awards pseudonymous, the result of his having gleefully tricked the critics), hero of the Republic, valorous recipient of the Croix de Guerre, diplomat, bon vivant, womanizer par excellence, went home to his apartment on the rue du Bac and put a bullet through his brain.

It was at some point during the course of these musings that the sign HOTEL WASHINGTON swam across my vision, bringing back memories of my long ago arrival in the city, along with the fierce and sudden realization that I would never see Paris again. This certitude astonished me and filled me with a new fright, for while thoughts of death had long been common during my siege, blowing through my mind like icy gusts of wind, they were the formless shapes of doom that I suppose are dreamed of by people in the grip of any severe affliction. The difference now was in the sure understanding that tomorrow, when the pain descended once more, or the tomorrow after that, certainly on some not too distant tomorrow, I would be forced to judge that life was not worth living and thereby answer, for myself at least, the fundamental question of philosophy.


TO MANY OF US WHO KNEW ABBIE HOFFMAN EVEN slightly, as I did, his death in the spring of 1989 was a sorrowful happening. Just past the age of fifty, he had been too young and apparently too vital for such an ending; a feeling of chagrin and dreadfulness attends the news of nearly anyone’s suicide, and Abbie’s death seemed to me especially cruel.

I had first met him during the wild days and nights of the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, where I had gone to write a piece for The New York Review of Books, and I later was one of those who testified on behalf of him and his fellow defendants at the trial, also in Chicago, in 1970. Amid the pious follies and morbid perversions of American life, his antic style was exhilarating, and it was hard not to admire the hellraising and the brio, the anarchic individualism.

I wish I had seen more of him in recent years; his sudden death left me with a particular emptiness, as suicides usually do to everyone. But the event was given a further dimension of poignancy by what one must begin to regard as a predictable reaction from many: the denial, the refusal to accept the fact of the suicide itself, as if the voluntary act, as opposed to an accident, or death from natural causes, were tinged with a delinquency that somehow lessened the man and his character.

Abbie’s brother appeared on television, grief, ravaged and distraught; one could not help feeling compassion as he sought to deflect the idea of suicide, insisting that Abbie, after all, had always been careless with pills and would never have left his family bereft. However, the coroner confirmed that Hoffman had taken the equivalent of 150 phenobarbitals.

It’s quite natural that the people closest to suicide victims so frequently and feverishly hasten to disclaim the truth; the sense of implication, of personal guilt, the idea that one might have prevented the act if one had taken certain precautions, had somehow behaved differently, is perhaps inevitable. Even so, the sufferer, whether he has actually killed himself or attempted to do so, or merely expressed threats, is often, through denial on the part of others, unjustly made to appear a wrongdoer.

A similar case is that of Randall Jarrell, one of the fine poets and critics of his generation, who on a night in 1965, near Chapel Hill, North Carolina, was struck by a car and killed. Jarrell’s presence on that particular stretch of road, at an odd hour of the evening, was puzzling, and since some of the indications were that he had deliberately let the car strike him, the early conclusion was that his death was suicide. Newsweek, among other publications, said as much, but Jarrell’s widow protested in a letter to that magazine; there was a hue and cry from many of his friends and supporters, and a coroner’s jury eventually ruled the death to be accidental. Jarrell had been suffering from extreme depression and had been hospitalized; only a few months before his misadventure on the highway and while in the hospital, he had slashed his wrists.

Anyone who is acquainted with some of the jagged contours of Jarrell’s life, including his violent fluctuations of mood, his fits of black despondency, and who, in addition, has acquired a basic knowledge of the danger signals of depression, would seriously question the verdict of the coroner’s jury. But the stigma of selfinflicted death is for some people a hateful blot that demands erasure at all costs. (More than two decades after his death, in the Summer 1986 issue of The American Scholar, a one time student of Jarrell’s, reviewing a collection of the poet’s letters, made the review less a literary or biographical appraisal than an occasion for continuing to try to exorcise the vile phantom of suicide.)

Randall Jarrell almost certainly killed himself. He did so not because he was a coward, nor out of any moral feebleness, but because he was afflicted with a depression that was so devastating that he could no longer endure the pain of it.

This general unawareness of what depression is really like was apparent most recently in the matter of Primo Levi, the remarkable Italian writer and survivor of Auschwitz who, at the age of sixty-seven, hurled himself down a stairwell in Turin in 1987. Since my own involvement with the illness, I had been more than ordinarily interested in Levi’s death, and so, late in 1988, when I read an account in The New York Times about a symposium on the writer and his work held at New York University, was fascinated but, finally, appalled. For, according to the article, many of the participants, worldly writers and scholars, seemed mystified by Levi’s suicide, mystified and disappointed. It was as if this man whom they had all so greatly admired, and who had endured so much at the hands of the Nazis, a man of exemplary resilience and courage, had by his suicide demonstrated a frailty, a crumbling of character they were loath to accept. In the face of a terrible absolute self-destruction, their reaction was helplessness and (the reader could not avoid it) a touch of shame.

My annoyance over all this was so intense that I was prompted to write a short piece for the op-ed page of the Times. The argument I put forth was fairly straightforward:

The pain of severe depression is quite unimaginable to those who have not suffered it, and it kills in many instances because its anguish can no longer be borne.

The prevention of many suicides will continue to be hindered until there is a general awareness of the nature of this pain. Through the healing process of time, and through medical intervention or hospitalization in many cases, most people survive depression, which may be its only blessing; but to the tragic legion who are compelled to destroy themselves there should be no more reproof attached than to the victims of terminal cancer.

I had set down my thoughts in this Times piece rather hurriedly and spontaneously, but the response was equally spontaneous, and enormous. It had taken, I speculated, no particular originality or boldness on my part to speak out frankly about suicide and the impulse toward it, but I had apparently underestimated the number of people for whom the subject had been taboo, a matter of secrecy and shame. The overwhelming reaction made me feel that inadvertently I had helped unlock a closet from which many souls were eager to come out and proclaim that they, too, had experienced the feelings I had described. It is the only time in my life I have felt it worthwhile to have invaded my own privacy, and to make that privacy public. And I thought that, given such momentum, and with my experience in Paris as a detailed example of what occurs during depression, it would be useful to try to chronicle some of my own experiences with the illness and in the process perhaps establish a frame of reference out of which one or more valuable conclusions might be drawn.

Such conclusions, it has to be emphasized, must still be based on the events that happened to one man. In setting these reflections down I don’t intend my ordeal to stand as a representation of what happens, or might happen, to others. Depression is much too complex in its cause, its symptoms and its treatment for unqualified conclusions to be drawn from the experience of a single individual. Although as an illness depression manifests certain unvarying characteristics, it also allows for many idiosyncrasies; I’ve been amazed at some of the freakish phenomena, not reported by other patients, that it has wrought amid the twistings of my mind’s labyrinth.

Depression afflicts millions directly, and millions more who are relatives or friends of victims. It has been estimated that as many as one in ten Americans will suffer from the illness. As assertively democratic as a Norman Rockwell poster, it strikes indiscriminately at all ages, races, creeds and classes, though women are at considerably higher risk than men. The occupational list (dressmakers, barge captains, sushi chefs, cabinet members) of its patients is too long and tedious to give here; it is enough to say that very few people escape being a potential victim of the disease, at least in its milder form. Despite depression’s eclectic reach, it has been demonstrated with fair convincingness that artistic types (especially poets) are particularly vulnerable to the disorder, which, in its graver, clinical manifestation takes upward of twenty percent of its victims by way of suicide.

Just a few of these fallen artists, all modern, make up a sad but scintillant roll call: Hart Crane, Vincent van Gogh, Virginia Woolf, Arshile Gorky, Cesare Pavese, Romain Gary, Vachel Lindsay, Sylvia Plath, Henry de Montherlant, Mark Rothko, John Berryman, Jack London, Ernest Hemingway, William Inge, Diane Arbus, Tadeusz Borowski, Paul Celan, Anne Sexton, Sergei Esenin, Vladimir Mayakovsky, the list goes on. (The Russian poet Mayakovsky was harshly critical of his great contemporary Esenin’s suicide a few years before, which should stand as a caveat for all who are judgmental about self destruction.)

When one thinks of these doomed and splendidly creative men and women, one is drawn to contemplate their childhoods, where, to the best of anyone’s knowledge, the seeds of the illness take strong root; could any of them have had a hint, then, of the psyche’s perishability, its exquisite fragility? And why were they destroyed, while others, similarly stricken, struggled through?


WHEN I WAS FIRST AWARE THAT I HAD BEEN LAID low by the disease, I felt a need, among other things, to register a strong protest against the word “depression.” Depression, most people know, used to be termed “melancholia,” a word which appears in English as early as the year 1303 and crops up more than once in Chaucer, who in his usage seemed to be aware of its pathological nuances. “Melancholia” would still appear to be a far more apt and evocative word for the blacker forms of the disorder, but it was usurped by a noun with a bland tonality and lacking any magisterial presence, used indifferently to describe an economic decline or a rut in the ground, a true wimp of a word for such a major illness. It may be that the scientist generally held responsible for its currency in modern times, a Johns Hopkins Medical School faculty member justly venerated, the Swiss born psychiatrist Adolf Meyer, had a tin ear for the finer rhythms of English and therefore was unaware of the semantic damage he had inflicted by offering “depression” as a descriptive noun for such a dreadful and raging disease. Nonetheless, for over seventy-five years the word has slithered innocuously through the language like a slug, leaving little trace of its intrinsic malevolence and preventing, by its very insipidity, a general awareness of the horrible intensity of the disease when out of control.

As one who has suffered from the malady in extremis yet returned to tell the tale, I would lobby for a truly arresting designation. “Brainstorm,” for instance, has unfortunately been preempted to describe, somewhat jocularly, intellectual inspiration. But something along these lines is needed. Told that someone’s mood disorder has evolved into a storm, a veritable howling tempest in the brain, which is indeed what a clinical depression resembles like nothing else, even the uninformed layman might display sympathy rather than the standard reaction that “depression” evokes, something akin to “So what?” or “You’ll pull out of it” or “We all have bad days.” The phrase “nervous breakdown” seems to be on its way out, certainly deservedly so, owing to its insinuation of a vague spinelessness, but we still seem destined to be saddled with “depression” until a better, sturdier name is created.

The depression that engulfed me was not of the manic type, the one accompanied by euphoric highs, which would have most probably presented itself earlier in my life. I was sixty when the illness struck for the first time, in the “unipolar” form, which leads straight down. I shall never learn what “caused” my depression, as no one will ever learn about their own. To be able to do so will likely forever prove to be an impossibility, so complex are the intermingled factors of abnormal chemistry, behavior and genetics. Plainly, multiple components are involved, perhaps three or four, most probably more, in fathomless permutations.

That is why the greatest fallacy about suicide lies in the belief that there is a single immediate answer, or perhaps combined answers, as to why the deed was done.

The inevitable question “Why did he, or she do it?” usually leads to odd speculations, for the most part fallacies themselves. Reasons were quickly advanced for Abbie Hoffman’s death: his reaction to an auto accident he had suffered, the failure of his most recent book, his mother’s serious illness. With Randall Jarrell it was a declining career cruelly epitomized by a vicious book review and his consequent anguish. Primo Levi, it was rumored, had been burdened by caring for his paralytic mother, which was more onerous to his spirit than even his experience at Auschwitz.

Any one of these factors may have lodged like a thorn in the sides of the three men, and been a torment. Such aggravations may be crucial and cannot be ignored. But most people quietly endure the equivalent of injuries, declining careers, nasty book reviews, family illnesses. A vast majority of the survivors of Auschwitz have borne up fairly well. Bloody and bowed by the outrages of life, most human beings still stagger on down the road, unscathed by real depression.

To discover why some people plunge into the downward spiral of depression, one must search beyond the manifest crisis, and then still fail to come up with anything beyond wise conjecture.

The storm which swept me into a hospital in December began as a cloud no bigger than a wine goblet the previous June. And the cloud, the manifest crisis, involved alcohol, a substance I had been abusing for forty years. Like a great many American writers, whose sometimes lethal addiction to alcohol has become so legendary as to provide in itself a stream of studies and books, I used alcohol as the magical conduit to fantasy and euphoria, and to the enhancement of the imagination. There is no need to either rue or apologize for my use of this soothing, often sublime agent, which had contributed greatly to my writing; although I never set down a line while under its influence, I did use it, often in conjunction with music, as a means to let my mind conceive visions that the unaltered, sober brain has no access to. Alcohol was an invaluable senior partner of my intellect, besides being a friend whose ministrations I sought daily, sought also, I now see, as a means to calm the anxiety and incipient dread that I had hidden away for so long somewhere in the dungeons of my spirit.

The trouble was, at the beginning of this particular summer, that I was betrayed. It struck me quite suddenly, almost overnight: I could no longer drink. It was as if my body had risen up in protest, along with my mind, and had conspired to reject this daily mood bath which it had so long welcomed and, who knows? perhaps even come to need. Many drinkers have experienced this intolerance as they have grown older. I suspect that the crisis was at least partly metabolic, the liver rebelling, as if to say, “No more, no more”, but at any rate I discovered that alcohol in minuscule amounts, even a mouthful of wine, caused me nausea, a desperate and unpleasant wooziness, a sinking sensation and ultimately a distinct revulsion. The comforting friend had abandoned me not gradually and reluctantly, as a true friend might do, but like a shot, and I was left high and certainly dry, and unhelmed.

Neither by will nor by choice had I became an abstainer; the situation was puzzling to me, but it was also traumatic, and I date the onset of my depressive mood from the beginning of this deprivation. Logically, one would be overjoyed that the body had so summarily dismissed a substance that was undermining its health; it was as if my system had generated a form of Antabuse, which should have allowed me to happily go my way, satisfied that a trick of nature had shut me off from a harmful dependence. But, instead, I began to experience a vaguely troubling malaise, a sense of something having gone cockeyed in the domestic universe I’d dwelt in so long, so comfortably. While depression is by no means unknown when people stop drinking, it is usually on a scale that is not menacing. But it should be kept in mind how idiosyncratic the faces of depression can be.

It was not really alarming at first, since the change was subtle, but I did notice that my surroundings took on a different tone at certain times: the shadows of nightfall seemed more somber, my mornings were less buoyant, walks in the woods became less zestful, and there was a moment during my working hours in the late afternoon when a kind of panic and anxiety overtook me, just for a few minutes, accompanied by a visceral queasiness, such a seizure was at least slightly alarming, after all. As I set down these recollections, I realize that it should have been plain to me that I was already in the grip of the beginning of a mood disorder, but I was ignorant of such a condition at that time.

When I reflected on this curious alteration of my consciousness, and I was baffled enough from time to time to do so, I assumed that it all had to do somehow with my enforced withdrawal from alcohol. And, of course, to a certain extent this was true. But it is my conviction now that alcohol played a perverse trick on me when we said farewell to each other: although, as everyone should know, it is a major depressant, it had never truly depressed me during my drinking career, acting instead as a shield against anxiety.

Suddenly vanished, the great ally which for so long had kept my demons at bay was no longer there to prevent those demons from beginning to swarm through the subconscious, and I was emotionally naked, vulnerable as I had never been before.

Doubtless depression had hovered near me for years, waiting to swoop down. Now I was in the first stage, premonitory, like a flicker of sheet lightning barely perceived, of depression’s black tempest.

I was on Martha’s Vineyard, where I’ve Spent a good part of each year since the 1960s, during that exceptionally beautiful summer. But I had begun to respond indifferently to the island’s pleasures. I felt a kind of numbness, an enervation, but more particularly an odd fragility, as if my body had actually become frail, hypersensitive and somehow disjointed and clumsy, lacking normal coordination. And soon I was in the throes of a pervasive hypochondria. Nothing felt quite right with my corporeal self; there were twitches and pains, sometimes intermittent, often seemingly constant, that seemed to presage all sorts of dire infirmities. (Given these signs, one can understand how, as far back as the seventeenth century, in the notes of contemporary physicians, and in the perceptions of John Dryden and others, a connection is made between melancholia and hypochondria; the words are often interchangeable, and were so used until the nineteenth century by writers as various as Sir Walter Scott and the Brontés, who also linked melancholy to a preoccupation with bodily ills.) It is easy to see how this condition is part of the psyche’s apparatus of defense: unwilling to accept its own gathering deterioration, the mind announces to its indwelling consciousness that it is the body with its perhaps correctable defects, not the precious and irreplaceable mind, that is going haywire.

In my case, the overall effect was immensely disturbing, augmenting the anxiety that was by now never quite absent from my waking hours and fueling still another strange behavior pattern, a fidgety restlessness that kept me on the move, somewhat to the perplexity of my family and friends. Once, in late summer, on an airplane trip to New York, I made the reckless mistake of downing a scotch and soda, my first alcohol in months, which promptly sent me into a tailspin, causing me such a horrified sense of disease and interior doom that the very next day I rushed to a Manhattan internist, who inaugurated a long series of tests. Normally I would have been satisfied, indeed elated, when, after three weeks of high-tech and extremely expensive evaluation, the doctor pronounced me totally fit; and I was happy, for a day or two, until there once again began the rhythmic daily erosion of my mood, anxiety, agitation, unfocused dread.

By now I had moved back to my house in Connecticut. It was October, and one of the unforgettable features of this stage of my disorder was the way in which my old farmhouse, my beloved home for thirty years, took on for me at that point when my spirits regularly sank to their nadir an almost palpable quality of ominousness. The fading evening light, akin to that famous “slant of light” of Emily Dickinson’s, which spoke to her of death, of chill extinction, had none of its familiar autumnal loveliness, but ensnared me in a suffocating gloom. I wondered how this friendly place, teeming with such memories of (again in her words) “Lads and Girls,” of “laughter and ability and sighing, and Frocks and Curls,” could almost perceptibly seem so hostile and forbidding. Physically, I was not alone. As always Rose was present and listened with unflagging patience to my complaints. But I felt an immense and aching solitude. I could no longer concentrate during those afternoon hours, which for years had been my working time, and the act of writing itself, becoming more and more difficult and exhausting, stalled, then finally ceased.

There were also dreadful, pouncing seizures of anxiety. One bright day on a walk through the woods with my dog I heard a flock of Canada geese honking high above trees ablaze with foliage; ordinarily a sight and sound that would have exhilarated me, the flight of birds caused me to stop, riveted with fear, and I stood stranded there, helpless, shivering, aware for the first time that I had been stricken by no mere pangs of withdrawal but by a serious illness whose name and actuality I was able finally to acknowledge. Going home, I couldn’t rid my mind of the line of Baudelaire’s, dredged up from the distant past, that for several days had been skittering around at the edge of my consciousness: “I have felt the wind of the wing of madness.”

Our perhaps understandable modern need to dull the sawtooth edges of so many of the afflictions we are heir to has led us to banish the harsh old-fashioned words: madhouse, asylum, insanity, melancholia, lunatic, madness.

But never let it be doubted that depression, in its extreme form, is madness. The madness results from an aberrant biochemical process. It has been established with reasonable certainty (after strong resistance from many psychiatrists, and not all that long ago) that such madness is chemically induced amid the neurotransmitters of the brain, probably as the result of systemic stress, which for unknown reasons causes a depletion of the chemicals norepinephrine and serotonin, and the increase of a hormone, cortisol.

With all of this upheaval in the brain tissues, the alternate drenching and deprivation, it is no wonder that the mind begins to feel aggrieved, stricken, and the muddied thought processes register the distress of an organ in convulsion. Sometimes, though not very often, such a disturbed mind will turn to violent thoughts regarding others. But with their minds turned agonizingly inward, people with depression are usually dangerous only to themselves. The madness of depression is, generally speaking, the antithesis of violence. It is a storm indeed, but a storm of murk. Soon evident are the slowed-down responses, near paralysis, psychic energy throttled back close to zero. Ultimately, the body is affected and feels sapped, drained.

That fall, as the disorder gradually took full possession of my system, I began to conceive that my mind itself was like one of those outmoded small town telephone exchanges, being gradually inundated by flood waters: one by one, the normal circuits began to drown, causing some of the functions of the body and nearly all of those of instinct and intellect to slowly disconnect.

There is a well known checklist of some of these functions and their failures. Mine conked out fairly close to schedule, many of them following the pattern of depressive seizures. I particularly remember the lamentable near disappearance of my voice. It underwent a strange transformation, becoming at times quite faint, wheezy and spasmodic, a friend observed later that it was the voice of a ninety year old. The libido also made an early exit, as it does in most major illnesses, it is the superfluous need of a body in beleaguered emergency. Many people lose all appetite; mine was relatively normal, but I found myself eating only for susistence: food, like everything else within the scope of sensation, was utterly without savor. Most distressing of all the instinctual disruptions was that of sleep, along with a complete absence of dreams.

Exhaustion combined with sleeplessness is a rare torture. The two or three hours of sleep I was able to get at night were always at the behest of the Halcyon, a matter which deserves particular notice. For some time now many experts in psychopharmacology have warned that the benzodiazepine family of tranquilizers, of which Halcion is one (Valium and Ativan are others), is capable of depressing mood and even precipitating a major depression. Over two years before my siege, an insouciant doctor had prescribed Ativan as a bedtime aid, telling me airily that I could take it as casually as aspirin. The Physicians’ Desk Reference, the pharmacological bible, reveals that the medicine I had been ingesting was (a) three times the normally prescribed strength, (b) not advisable as a medication for more than a month or so, and (c) to be used with special caution by people of my age. At the time of which I am speaking I was no longer taking Ativan but had become addicted to Halcion and was consuming large doses. It seems reasonable to think that this was still another contributory factor to the trouble that had come upon me. Certainly, it should be a caution to others.

At any rate, my few hours of sleep were usually terminated at three or four in the morning, when I stared up into yawning darkness, wondering and writhing at the devastation taking place in my mind, and awaiting the dawn, which usually permitted me a feverish, dreamless nap. I’m fairly certain that it was during one of these insomniac trances that there came over me the knowledge, a weird and shocking revelation, like that of some long beshrouded metaphysical truth, that this condition would cost me my life if it continued on such a course. This must have been just before my trip to Paris.

Death, as I have said, was now a daily presence, blowing over me in cold gusts. I had not conceived precisely how my end would come. In short, I was still keeping the idea of suicide at bay. But plainly the possibility was around the corner, and I would soon meet it face to face.

What I had begun to discover is that, mysteriously and in ways that are totally remote from normal experience.

The gray drizzle of horror induced by depression takes on the quality of physical pain. But it is not an immediately identifiable pain, like that of a broken limb. It may be more accurate to say that despair, owing to some evil trick played upon the sick brain by the inhabiting psyche, comes to resemble the diabolical discomfort of being imprisoned in a fiercely overheated room. And because no breeze stirs this caldron, because there is no escape from this smothering confinement, it is entirely natural that the victim begins to think ceaselessly of oblivion.



. . .




by William Styron

get it at Amazon.com

A State Built on Murder. RISE AND KILL FIRST: The Secret History Of Israel’s Targeted Assassinations – Ronen Bergman.

OF ALL THE MEANS that democracies use to protect their security, there is none more fraught and controversial than “killing the driver”, assassination.

Israel’s reliance on assassination as a military tool did not happen by chance, but rather stems from the revolutionary and activist roots of the Zionist movement.

The six million would be avenged and let it be known that “no Nazi will place a foot on the soil of the Land of Israel.”

Since World War II, Israel has assassinated more people than any other country in the Western world. They have developed the most robust, streamlined assassination machine in history.

The members of Hashomer who led the Haganah at the outset were even willing to commit acts of violence against fellow Jews.

“You need to know how to forgive. You need to know how to forgive the enemy. However, we have no authority to forgive people like bin Laden. That, only God can do. Our job is to arrange a meeting between them. In my laboratory, I opened a matchmaker’s office, a bureau that arranged such meetings. I orchestrated more than thirty such meetings.” Natan Rotberg

Is it legitimate, both ethically and judicially, for a country to employ the gravest of all crimes in any code of ethics or law, the premeditated taking of a human life, in order to protect its own citizens?

MEIR DAGAN, CHIEF OF the Israeli Mossad, legendary spy and assassin, walked into the room, leaning on his cane.

He’d been using it ever since he was wounded by a mine laid by Palestinian terrorists he was fighting in the Gaza Strip as a young special-ops officer in the 1970s. Dagan, who knew a thing or two about the power of myths and symbols, was careful not to deny the rumors that there was a blade concealed in the cane, which he could bare with a push of a button.

Dagan was a short man, so dark-skinned that people were always surprised to hear that he was from Polish origins, and he had a potbelly with a presence of its own. On this occasion he was wearing a simple open-necked shirt, light black pants, and black shoes, and it looked as if he’d not paid any special attention to his appearance. There was something about him that expressed a direct, terse self-confidence, and a quiet, sometimes menacing charisma.

The conference room that Dagan entered that afternoon, on January 8, 2011, was in the Mossad Academy, north of Tel Aviv. For the first time ever, the head of the espionage agency was meeting with journalists in the heart of one of Israel’s most closely guarded and secret installations.

Dagan had no love for the media. “I’ve reached the conclusion that it is an insatiable monster,” he would tell me later, “so there’s no point in maintaining a relationship with it.” Nevertheless, three days before the meeting, I and a number of other correspondents had received a confidential invitation. I was surprised. For an entire decade I had been leveling some harsh criticism at the Mossad, and in particular at Dagan, making him very angry.

The Mossad did everything it could to give the affair a cloak-and-dagger atmosphere. We were told to come to the parking lot of Cinema City, a movie theater complex not far from Mossad HQ, and to leave everything in our cars except notebooks and writing implements. “You will be carefully searched, and we want to avoid any unpleasantness,” our escorts told us. From there we were driven in a bus with dark tinted windows to the Mossad headquarters complex. We passed through a number of electric gates and electronic signs warning those entering what was permitted and what forbidden inside the perimeter. Then came a thorough scanning with metal detectors to make sure we hadn’t brought any video or audio recording equipment. We entered the conference room, and Dagan came in a few minutes after us, walking around and shaking hands. When he got to me, he gripped my hand for a moment and said with a smile, “You really are some kind of a bandit.”

Then he sat down. He was flanked by the spokesman of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the chief military censor, a female brigadier general. (The Mossad is a unit of the prime minister’s office, and, under national law, reporting on any of its activities is subject to censorship.) Both of these officials believed that Dagan had called the meeting merely to bid a formal farewell to the people who had covered his tenure, and that he would say nothing substantive.

They were wrong. The surprise was evident on the face of the prime minister’s spokesperson, whose eyes got wider and wider as Dagan continued speaking.

“There are advantages to having a back injury,” Dagan said, opening his address. “You get a doctor’s certificate confirming that you’re not spineless.” Very quickly, we realized that this was no mere wisecrack, as Dagan launched into a vehement attack on the prime minister of Israel. Benjamin Netanyahu, Dagan claimed, was behaving irresponsibly and, for his own egotistical reasons, leading the country into disaster. “That someone is elected does not mean that he is smart” was one of his jibes.

This was the last day of Dagan’s term as the Mossad’s director. Netanyahu was showing him the door, and Dagan, whose life’s dream had been to hold the position of Israel’s top spy, was not going to stand by with folded arms. The acute crisis of confidence between the two men had flared up around two issues, and both of them were intimately connected to Meir Dagan’s weapon of choice: assassination.

“That someone is elected does not mean that he is smart” Meir Dagan

Eight years earlier, Ariel Sharon had appointed Dagan to the Mossad post and put him in charge of disrupting the Iranian nuclear weapons project, which both men saw as an existential threat to Israel. Dagan acted in a number of ways to fulfill this task. The most difficult way, but also the most effective, Dagan believed, was to identify iran’s key nuclear and missile scientists, locate them, and kill them. The Mossad pinpointed fifteen such targets, of whom it eliminated six, mostly when they were on their way to work in the morning, by means of bombs with short time fuses, attached to their cars by a motorcyclist. In addition, a general of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, who was in charge of the missile project, was blown up in his headquarters together with seventeen of his men.

These operations and many others initiated by the Mossad, some in collaboration with the United States, were all successful, but Netanyahu and his defense minister, Ehud Barak, had begun to feel that their utility was declining. They decided that clandestine measures could no longer effectively delay the Iranian nuclear project, and that only a massive aerial bombardment of the Iranians’ nuclear facilities would successfully halt their progress toward acquiring such weapons.

Dagan strongly opposed this idea. Indeed, it flew in the face of everything he believed in: that open warfare should be waged only when “the sword is on our throat,” or as a last resort, in situations in which there was no other choice. Everything else could and should be handled through clandestine means.

“Assassinations,” he said, “have an effect on morale, as well as a practical effect. I don’t think there were many who could have replaced Napoleon, or a president like Roosevelt or a prime minister like Churchill. The personal aspect certainly plays a role. It’s true that anyone can be replaced, but there’s a difference between a replacement with guts and some lifeless character.”

Furthermore, the use of assassination, in Dagan’s view, “is a lot more moral” than waging all-out war. Neutralizing a few major figures is enough to make the latter option unnecessary and save the lives of untold numbers of soldiers and civilians on both sides. A large-scale attack against Iran would lead to a large-scale conflict across the Middle East, and even then it likely would not cause enough damage to the Iranian installations.

Finally, from Dagan’s point of view, if Israel started a war with Iran, it would be an indictment of his entire career. History books would show that he had not fulfilled the task that Sharon had given him: to put an end to Iranian nuclear acquisition using covert means, without recourse to an open assault.

Dagan’s opposition, and similar heavy pressure from the top military and intelligence chiefs, forced the repeated postponement of the attack on Iran. Dagan even briefed CIA Director Leon Panetta about the Israeli plan (the prime minister alleges he did so without permission), and soon President Obama was also warning Netanyahu not to attack.

The tension between the two men escalated even higher in 2010, seven years into Dagan’s tenure. Dagan had dispatched a hit team of twenty-seven Mossad operatives to Dubai to eliminate a senior official of the Palestinian terror group Hamas. They did the job: the assassins injected him with a paralyzing drug in his hotel room and made their getaway from the country before the body was discovered. But just a short while after their departure, due to a series of gross errors they made, forgetting to take into account Dubai’s innumerable CCTV cameras; using the same phony passports that the operatives had previously used to enter Dubai in order to follow the target; and a phone setup that the local police had no trouble in cracking, the whole world was soon watching video footage of their faces and a complete record of their movements. The discovery that this was a Mossad operation caused serious operational damage to the agency, as well as profound embarrassment to the State of Israel, which had once again been caught using fake passports of friendly Western countries for its agents. “But you told me it would be easy and simple, that the risk of things going wrong was close to zero,” Netanyahu fumed at Dagan, and ordered him to suspend many of the pending assassination plans and other operations until further notice.

The confrontation between Dagan and Netanyahu became more and more acute until Netanyahu (according to his version) decided not to extend Dagan’s tenure, or (in Dagan’s words) “I simply got sick of him and I decided to retire.”

At that briefing in the Mossad Academy and in a number of later interviews for this book, Dagan displayed robust confidence that the Mossad, under his leadership, would have been able to stop the Iranians from making nuclear weapons by means of assassinations and other pinpoint measures, for instance, working with the United States to keep the Iranians from being able to import critical parts for their nuclear project that they could not manufacture themselves. “If we manage to prevent Iran from obtaining some of the components, this would seriously damage their project. In a car there are 25,000 parts on average. Imagine if one hundred of them are missing. It would be very hard to make it go. “On the other hand,” Dagan added with a smile, returning to his favorite modus operandi, “sometimes it’s most effective to kill the driver, and that’s that.”

OF ALL THE MEANS that democracies use to protect their security, there is none more fraught and controversial than “killing the driver”, assassination.

Some, euphemistically, call it “liquidation.” The American intelligence community calls it, for legal reasons, “targeted killings.” In practice, these terms amount to the same thing: killing a specific individual in order to achieve a specific goal, saving the lives of people the target intends to kill, averting a dangerous act that he is about to perpetrate, and sometimes removing a leader in order to change the course of history.

The use of assassinations by a state touches two very difficult dilemmas. First, is it effective? Can the elimination of an individual, or a number of individuals, make the world a safer place? Second, is it morally and legally justified? is it legitimate, both ethically and judicially, for a country to employ the gravest of all crimes in any code of ethics or law, the premeditated taking of a human life, in order to protect its own citizens?

This book deals mainly with the assassinations and targeted killings carried out by the Mossad and by other arms of the Israeli government, in both peacetime and wartime, as well as, in the early chapters, by the underground militias in the pre-state era, organizations that were to become the army and intelligence services of the state, once it was established.

Since World War II, Israel has assassinated more people than any other country in the Western world. On innumerable occasions, its leaders have weighed what would be the best way to defend its national security and, out of all the options, have time and again decided on clandestine operations, with assassination the method of choice. This, they believed, would solve difficult problems faced by the state, and sometimes change the course of history. In many cases, Israel’s leaders have even determined that in order to kill the designated target, it is moral and legal to endanger the lives of innocent civilians who may happen to find themselves in the line of fire. Harming such people, they believe, is a necessary evil.

The numbers speak for themselves. Up until the start of the Second Palestinian Intifada, in September 2000, when Israel first began to respond to suicide bombings with the daily use of armed drones to perform assassinations, the state had conducted some 500 targeted killing operations. In these, at least 1,000 people were killed, both civilians and combatants. During the Second Intifada, Israel carried out some 1,000 more operations, of which 168 succeeded. Since then, up until the writing of this book, Israel has executed some 800 targeted killing operations, almost all of which were part of the rounds of warfare against Hamas in the Gaza Strip in 2008, 2012, and 2014 or Mossad operations across the Middle East against Palestinian, Syrian, and Iranian targets. By contrast, during the presidency of George W. Bush, the United States of America carried out 48 targeted killing operations, according to one estimate, and under President Barack Obama there were 353 such attacks.

Israel’s reliance on assassination as a military tool did not happen by chance, but rather stems from the revolutionary and activist roots of the Zionist movement, from the trauma of the Holocaust, and from the sense among Israel’s leaders and citizens that the country and its people are perpetually in danger of annihilation and that, as in the Holocaust, no one will come to their aid when that happens.

Because of Israel’s tiny dimensions, the attempts by the Arab states to destroy it even before it was established, their continued threats to do so, and the perpetual menace of Arab terrorism, the country evolved a highly effective military and, arguably, the best intelligence community in the world. They, in turn, have developed the most robust, streamlined assassination machine in history.

The following pages will detail the secrets of that machine, the fruit of a mixed marriage between guerrilla warfare and the military might of a technological powerhouse, its operatives, leaders, methods, deliberations, successes, and failures, as well as the moral costs. They will illustrate how two separate legal systems have arisen in Israel, one for ordinary citizens and one for the intelligence community and defense establishment. The latter system has allowed, with a nod and a wink from the government, highly problematic acts of assassination, with no parliamentary or public scrutiny, resulting in the loss of many innocent lives.

On the other hand, the assassination weapon, based on intelligence that is “nothing less than exquisite”, to quote the former head of the NSA and the CIA, General Michael Hayden, is what made Israel’s war on terror the most effective ever waged by a Western country. On numerous occasions, it was targeted killing that saved Israel from very grave cases.

The Mossad and Israel’s other intelligence arms have done away with individuals who were identified as direct threats to national security, and killing them has also sent a bigger message: If you are an enemy of Israel, we will find and kill you, wherever you are. This message has indeed been heard around the world. Occasional blunders have only enhanced the Mossad’s aggressive and merciless reputation, not a bad thing, when the goal of deterrence is as important as the goal of preempting specific hostile acts.

The assassinations were not all carried out by small, closed groups. The more complex they became, the more people took part, sometimes as many as hundreds, the majority of them below the age of twenty-five. Sometimes these young people will come with their commanders to meet the prime minister, the only one authorized to green-light an assassination, in order to explain the operation and get final approval. Such forums, in which most of the participants advocating for someone’s death are under the age of thirty, are probably unique to Israel. Some of the low ranking officers involved in these meetings have advanced over the years to become national leaders and even prime ministers themselves. What marks have remained imprinted on them from the times they took part in hit operations?

The United States has taken the intelligence gathering and assassination techniques developed in Israel as a model, and after 9/11 and President Bush’s decision to launch a campaign of targeted killings against Al Qaeda, it transplanted some of these methods into its own intelligence and war on terror systems. The command and control systems, the war rooms, the methods of information gathering, and the technology of the pilotless aircraft, or drones, that now serve the Americans and their allies were all in large part developed in Israel.

Nowadays, when the same kind of extrajudicial killing that Israel has used for decades is being used daily by America against its enemies, it is appropriate not only to admire the impressive operational capabilities that Israel has built, but also to study the high moral price that has been paid, and still is being paid, for the use of such power.

Chapter One


ON SEPTEMBER 29, 1944, David Shomron hid in the gloom of St. George Street, not far from the Romanian Church in Jerusalem. A church building was used as officers’ lodgings by the British authorities governing Palestine, and Shomron was waiting for one of those officers, a man named Tom Wilkin, to leave.

Wilkin was the commander of the Jewish unit at the Criminal investigation Department (CID) of the British Mandate for Palestine, and he was very good at his job, especially the part that involved infiltrating and disrupting the fractious Jewish underground. Aggressive, yet also exceptionally patient and calculating, Wilkin spoke fluent Hebrew, and after thirteen years of service in Palestine, he had an extensive network of informants. Thanks to the intelligence they provided, underground fighters were arrested, their weapons caches were seized, and their planned operations, aimed at forcing the British to leave Palestine, were foiled.

Which was why Shomron was going to kill him.

Shomron and his partner that night, Yaakov Banai (code named Mazal, “Luck”), were operatives with Lehi, the most radical of the Zionist underground movements fighting the British in the early 1940s. Though Lehi was the acronym for the Hebrew phrase “fighters for the freedom of Israel,” the British considered it a terrorist organization, referring to it dismissively as the Stern Gang, after its founder, the romantic ultra-nationalist Avraham Stern. Stern and his tiny band of followers employed a targeted mayhem of assassinations and bombings, a campaign of “personal terror,” as Lehi’s operations chief (and later Israeli prime minister), Yitzhak Shamir, called it.

Wilkin knew he was a target. Lehi already had tried to kill him and his boss, Geoffrey Morton, nearly three years earlier, in its first, clumsy operation. On January 20, 1942, assassins planted bombs on the roof and inside the building of 8 Yael Street, in Tel Aviv. Instead they ended up killing three police officers-two Jews and an Englishman, who arrived before Wilkin and Morton and tripped the charges. Later, Morton fled Palestine after being wounded in another attempt on his life, that one in retribution for Morton having shot Stern dead.

None of those details, the back-and-forth of who killed whom and in what order, mattered to Shomron. The British occupied the land the Zionists saw as rightfully theirs, that was what mattered, and Shamir had issued a death sentence against Wilkin.

For Shomron and his comrades, Wilkin was not a person but rather a target, prominent and high value. “We were too busy and hungry to think about the British and their families,” Shomron said decades later.

After discovering that Wilkin was residing in the Romanian Church annex, the assassins set out on their mission. Shomron and Banai had revolvers and hand grenades in their pockets. Additional Lehi operatives were in the vicinity, smartly dressed in suits and hats to look like Englishmen.

Wilkin left the officers’ lodgings in the church and headed for the ClD’s facility in the Russian Compound, where underground suspects were held and interrogated. As always, he was wary, scanning the street as he walked and keeping one hand in his pocket all the time. As he passed the corner of St. George and Mea Shearim Streets, a youngster sitting outside the neighborhood grocery store got up and dropped his hat. This was the signal, and the two assassins began walking toward Wilkin, identifying him according to the photographs they’d studied. Shomron and Banai let him pass, gripping their revolvers with sweating palms.

Then they turned around and drew.

“Before we did it, Mazal [Banai] said, ‘Let me shoot first,” Shomron recalled. “But when we saw him, I guess I couldn’t restrain myself. I shot first.”

Between them, Banai and Shomron fired fourteen times. Eleven of those bullets hit Wilkin. “He managed to turn around and draw his pistol,” Shomron said, “but then he fell face first. A spurt of blood came out of his forehead, like a fountain. It was not such a pretty picture.”

Shomron and Banai darted back into the shadows and made off in a taxi in which another Lehi man was waiting for them.

“The only thing that hurt me was that we forgot to take the briefcase in which he had all his documents,” Shomron said. Other than that, “I didn’t feel anything, not even a little twinge of guilt. We believed the more coffins that reached London, the closer the day of freedom would be.”

THE IDEA THAT THE return of the People of Israel to the Land of Israel could be achieved only by force was not born with Stern and his Lehi comrades.

The roots of that strategy can be traced to eight men who gathered in a stifling one room apartment overlooking an orange grove in Jaffa on September 29, 1907, exactly thirty seven years before a fountain of blood spurted from Wilkin’s head, when Palestine was still part of the Turkish Ottoman Empire. The flat was rented by Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, a young Russian who’d immigrated to Ottoman Palestine earlier that year. Like the others in his apartment that night, all emigrants from the Russian empire, sitting on a straw mat spread on the floor of the candlelit room, he was a committed Zionist, albeit part of a splinter sect that had once threatened to end the movement.

Zionism as a political ideology had been founded in 1896 when Viennese Jewish journalist Theodor Herzl published Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State). He had been deeply affected while covering the trial in Paris of Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish army officer unjustly accused and convicted of treason.

In his book, Herzl argued that anti-Semitism was so deeply ingrained in European culture that the Jewish people could achieve true freedom and safety only in a nation-state of their own. The Jewish elite of Western Europe, who’d managed to carve out comfortable lives for themselves, mostly rejected Herzl. But his ideas resonated with poor and working-class Jews of Eastern Europe, who suffered repeated pogroms and continual oppression and to which some of them responded by aligning themselves with leftist uprisings.

Herzl himself saw Palestine, the Jews’ ancestral homeland, as the ideal location for a future Jewish state, but he maintained that any settlement there would have to be handled deliberately and delicately, through proper diplomatic channels and with international sanction, if a Jewish nation was to survive in peace. Herzl’s view came to be known as political Zionism.

Ben-Zvi and his seven comrades, on the other hand, were-like most other Russian Jews, practical Zionists. Rather than wait for the rest of the world to give them a home, they believed in creating one themselves, in going to Palestine, working the land, making the desert bloom. They would take what they believed to be rightfully theirs, and they would defend what they had taken.

This put the practical Zionists in immediate conflict with most of the Jews already living in Palestine. As a tiny minority in an Arab land, many of them peddlers and religious scholars and functionaries under the Ottoman regime, they preferred to keep a low profile. Through Mustafasubservience and compromise and bribery, these established Palestinian Jews had managed to buy themselves relative peace and a measure of security.

But Ben-Zvi and the other newcomers were appalled at the conditions their fellow Jews tolerated. Many were living in abject poverty and had no means of defending themselves, utterly at the mercy of the Arab majority and the venal officials of the corrupt Ottoman Empire. Arab mobs attacked and plundered Jewish settlements, rarely with any consequences. Worse, as Ben-Zvi and the others saw it, those same settlements had consigned their defense to Arab guards, who in turn would sometimes collaborate with attacking mobs.

Ben-Zvi and his friends found this situation to be unsustainable and intolerable. Some were former members of Russian left-wing revolutionary movements inspired by the People’s Will (Narodnaya Volya), an aggressive anti-tsarist guerrilla movement that employed terrorist tactics, including assassinations.

Disappointed by the abortive 1905 revolution in Russia, which in the end produced only minimal constitutional reforms, some of these socialist revolutionaries, social democrats, and liberals moved to Ottoman Palestine to reestablish a Jewish state.

They all were desperately poor, barely scraping by, earning pennies at teaching jobs or manual labor in the fields and orange groves, often going hungry. But they were proud Zionists. If they were going to create a nation, they first had to defend themselves. So they slipped through the streets of Jaffa in pairs and alone, making their way to the secret meeting in Ben-Zvi’s apartment.

That night, those eight people formed the first Hebrew fighting force of the modern age. They decreed that, from then forward, everything would be different from the image of the weak and persecuted Jew all across the globe. Only Jews would defend Jews in Palestine.

They named their fledgling army Bar-Giora, after one of the leaders of the Great Jewish Revolt against the Roman Empire, in the first century. On their banner, they paid homage to that ancient rebellion and predicted their future. “In blood and fire Judea fell,” it read. “In blood and fire Judea will rise.”

Judea would indeed rise. Ben-Zvi would one day be the Jewish nation’s second president. Yet first there would be much fire, and much blood.

BAR-GIORA WAS NOT, AT first, a popular movement. But more Jews arrived in Palestine from Russia and Eastern Europe every year, 35,000 between 1905 and 1914, bringing with them that same determined philosophy of practical Zionism.

With more like-minded Jews flooding into the Yishuv, as the Jewish community in Palestine was called, Bar-Giora in 1909 was reconstituted into the larger and more aggressive Hashomer (Hebrew for “the Guard”). By 1912, Hashomer was defending fourteen settlements. Yet it was also developing offensive, albeit clandestine, capabilities, preparing for what practical Zionists saw as an inevitable eventual war to take control of Palestine. Hashomer therefore saw itself as the nucleus for a future Jewish army and intelligence service.

Mounted on their horses, Hashomer vigilantes raided a few Arab settlements to punish residents who had harmed Jews, sometimes beating them up, sometimes executing them. In one case, a special clandestine assembly of Hashomer members decided to eliminate a Bedouin policeman, Aref al-Arsan, who had assisted the Turks and tortured Jewish prisoners. He was shot dead by Hashomer in June 1916.

Hashomer did not recoil from using force to assert its authority over other Jews, either. During World War I, Hashomer was violently opposed to NILI, a Jewish spy network working for the British in Ottoman Palestine. Hashomer feared that the Turks would discover the spies and wreak vengeance against the entire Jewish community. When they failed to get NILI to cease operations or to hand over a stash of gold coins they’d received from the British, they made an attempt on the life of Yosef Lishansky, one of its members, managing only to wound him.

In 1920, Hashomer evolved again, now into the Haganah (Hebrew for “Defense”). Though it was not specifically legal, the British authorities, who had been ruling the country for about three years, tolerated the Haganah as the paramilitary defensive arm of the Yishuv. The Histadrut, the socialist labor union of the Jews in Israel that was founded in the same year, and the Jewish Agency, the Yishuv’s autonomous governing authority, established a few years later, both headed by David Ben-Gurion, maintained command over the secret organization.

David Ben-Gurion

Ben-Gurion was born David Yosef Grijn in Plo’nsk, Poland, in 1886. From an early age, he followed in his father’s footsteps as a Zionist activist. In 1906, he migrated to Palestine and, thanks to his charisma and determination, soon became one of the leaders of the Yishuv, despite his youth. He then changed his name to Ben-Gurion, after another of the leaders of the revolt against the Romans.

Haganah in its early years was influenced by the spirit and aggressive attitude of Hashomer. On May 1, 1921, an Arab mob massacred fourteen Jews in an immigrants’ hostel in Jaffa. After learning that an Arab police officer by the name of Tewfik Bey had helped the mob get into the hostel, Haganah sent a hit squad to dispose of him, and on January 17, 1923, he was shot dead in the middle of a Tel Aviv street. “As a matter of honor,” he was shot from the front and not in the back, according to one of those involved, and the intention was “to show the Arabs that their deeds are not forgotten and their day will come, even if belatedly.”

The members of Hashomer who led the Haganah at the outset were even willing to commit acts of violence against fellow Jews. Jacob de Haan was a Dutch born Haredi-an ultra-Orthodox Jew, living in Jerusalem in the early 1920s. He was a propagandist for the Haredi belief that only the Messiah could establish a Jewish state, that God alone would decide when to return the Jews to their ancestral homeland, and that humans trying to expedite the process were committing a grave sin. In other words, de Haan was a staunch anti-Zionist, and he was surprisingly adept at swaying international opinion. To Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, by now a prominent Haganah leader, that made de Haan dangerous. So he ordered his death.

On June 30, 1924, just a day before de Haan was to travel to London to ask the British government to reconsider its promise to establish a Jewish nation in Palestine, two assassins shot him three times as he emerged from a synagogue on Jaffa Road in Jerusalem.

Ben-Gurion, however, took a dim view of such acts. He realized that in order to win even partial recognition from the British for Zionist aims, he would have to enforce orderly and more moderate norms on the semi-underground militia under his command. Hashomer’s brave and lethal lone riders were replaced after the de Haan murder by an organized, hierarchical armed force. Ben-Gurion ordered Haganah to desist from using targeted killings. “As to personal terror, Ben-Gurion’s line was consistently and steadily against it,” Haganah commander Yisrael Galili testified later, and he recounted a number of instances in which Ben-Gurion had refused to approve proposals for hits against individual Arabs. These included the Palestinian leader Hajj Amin al-Husseini and other members of the Arab Higher Committee, and British personnel, such as a senior official in the Mandate’s lands authority who was obstructing Jewish settlement projects.

Not everyone was eager to acquiesce to Ben-Gurion. Avraham Tehomi, the man who shot de Haan, despised the moderate line Ben-Gurion took against the British and the Arabs, and, together with some other leading figures, he quit Haganah and in 1931 formed the Irgun Zvai Leumi, the “National Military Organization” whose Hebrew acronym is Etzel, usually referred to in English as IZL or the Irgun. This radical right-wing group was commanded in the 1940s by Menachem Begin, who in 1977 was to become prime minister of Israel. Inside the Irgun, too, there were clashes, personal and ideological. Opponents of Begin’s agreement to cooperate with Britain in its war against the Nazis broke away and formed Lehi. For these men, any cooperation with Britain was anathema.

These two dissident groups both advocated, to different degrees, the use of targeted killings against the Arab and British enemy, and against Jews they considered dangerous to their cause. Ben-Gurion remained adamant that targeted killings would not be used as a weapon and even took aggressive measures against those who did not obey his orders.

But then World War II ended, and everything, even the views of the obstinate Ben-Gurion, changed.

DURING WORLD WAR II, some 38,000 Jews from Palestine volunteered to help and serve in the British Army in Europe. The British formed the so-called Jewish Brigade, albeit somewhat reluctantly and only after being pressured by the Yishuv’s civilian leadership.

Unsure exactly what to do with the Brigade, the British first sent it to train in Egypt. It was there, in mid-1944, that its members first heard of the Nazi campaign of Jewish annihilation. When they were finally sent to Europe to fight in Italy and Austria, they witnessed the horrors of the Holocaust firsthand and were among the first to send detailed reports to Ben-Gurion and other leaders of the Yishuv.

One of those soldiers was Mordechai Gichon, who later would be one of the founders of Israeli military intelligence. Born in Berlin in 1922, Gichon had a father who was Russian and a mother who was the scion of a famous German-Jewish family, niece of Rabbi Leo Baeck, a leader of Germany’s Liberal (Reform) Jews. Gichon’s family moved to Palestine in 1933, after Mordechai had been required in his German school to give the Nazi salute and sing the party anthem.

He returned as a soldier to a Europe in ruins, his people nearly destroyed, their communities smoldering ruins. “The Jewish people had been humiliated, trampled, murdered,” he said. “Now was the time to strike back, to take revenge. In my dreams, when I enlisted, revenge took the form of me arresting my best friend from Germany, whose name was Detlef, the son of a police major. That’s how I would restore lost Jewish honor.”

It was that sense of lost honor, of a people’s humiliation, as much as rage at the Nazis, that drove men like Gichon. He first met the Jewish refugees on the border between Austria and Italy. The men of the Brigade fed them, took off their own uniforms to clothe them against the cold, tried to draw out of them details of the atrocities they had undergone. He remembers an encounter in June 1945 in which a female refugee came up to him.

“She broke away from her group and spoke to me in German,” he said. “She said, ‘You, the soldiers of the Brigade, are the sons of Bar Kokhba’”, the great hero of the Second Jewish Revolt against the Romans, in AD. 132-135. “She said, ‘I will always remember your insignia and what you did for us.”’

Gichon was flattered by the Bar Kokhba analogy, but for her praise and gratitude, Gichon felt only pity and shame. If the Jews in the Brigade were the sons of Bar Kokhba, who were these Jews? The soldiers from the Land of Israel, standing erect, tough, and strong, saw the Holocaust survivors as victims who needed help, but also as part of the European Jewry who had allowed themselves to be massacred. They embodied the cowardly, feeble stereotype of the Jews of the Diaspora, the Exile, in traditional Jewish and Zionist parlance, who surrendered rather than fought back, who did not know how to shoot or wield a weapon. It was that image, in its most extreme version, the Jew as a Muselmann, prisoners’ slang for the emaciated, zombie-like inmates hovering near death in the Nazi camps, that the new Jews of the Yishuv rejected.

“My brain could not grasp, not then and not today, how it could have been that there were tens of thousands of Jews in a camp with only a few German guards, but they did not rise up, they simply went like lambs to the slaughter,” Gichon said more than sixty years later. “Why didn’t they tear the Germans to shreds? I’ve always said that no such thing could happen in the Land of Israel. Had those communities had leaders worthy of the name, the entire business would have looked completely different.”

In the years following the war, the Zionists of the Yishuv would prove, both to the world and, more important, to themselves, that Jews would never again go to such slaughter, and that Jewish blood would not come cheaply.

The six million would be avenged.

“We thought we could not rest until we had exacted blood for blood, death for death,” said Hanoch Bartov, a highly regarded Israeli novelist who enlisted in the Brigade a month before his seventeenth birthday.

Such vengeance, though, atrocity for atrocity would violate the rules of war and likely be disastrous for the Zionist cause. Ben-Gurion, practical as always, publicly said as much: “Revenge now is an act of no national value. It cannot restore life to the millions who were murdered.”

Still, the Haganah’s leaders privately understood the need for some sort of retribution, both to satisfy the troops who had been exposed to the atrocities and also to achieve some degree of historical justice and deter future attempts to slaughter Jews. Thus, they sanctioned some types of reprisals against the Nazis and their accomplices. Immediately after the war, a secret unit, authorized and controlled by the Haganah high command and unknown to the British commanders, was set up within the Brigade. It was called Gmul, Hebrew for “Recompense.” The unit’s mission was “revenge, but not a robber’s revenge,” as a secret memo at the time put it. “Revenge against those SS men who themselves took part in the slaughter.”

“We looked for big fish,” Mordechai Gichon said, breaking a vow of silence among the Gmul commanders that he’d kept for more than sixty years. “The senior Nazis who had managed to shed their uniforms and return to their homes.”

The Gmul agents worked undercover even as they performed their regular Brigade duties. Gichon himself assumed two fake identities, one as a German civilian, the other as a British major, as he hunted Nazis. In expeditions under his German cover, Gichon recovered the Gestapo archives in Tarvisio, Villach, and Klagenfurt, to which fleeing Nazis had set fire but only a small part of which actually burned. Operating as the British major, he gleaned more names from Yugoslavian Communists who were still afraid to carry out revenge attacks themselves. A few Jews in American intelligence also were willing to help by handing over information they had on escaped Nazis, which they thought the Palestinian Jews would use to better effect than the American military.

Coercion worked, too. In June 1945, Gmul agents found a Polish-born German couple who lived in Tarvisio. The wife had been involved in transferring stolen Jewish property from Austria and Italy to Germany, and her husband had helped run the regional Gestapo office. The Palestinian Jewish soldiers offered them a stark choice: cooperate or die.

“The guy broke and said he was willing to cooperate,” said Yisrael Karmi, who interrogated the couple and later, after Israel was born, would become the commander of the Israeli Army’s military police. “I assigned him to prepare lists of all the senior officials that he knew and who had worked with the Gestapo and the SS. Name, date of birth, education, and positions.”

The result was a dramatic intelligence breakthrough, a list of dozens of names. Gmul’s men tracked down each missing NAZI, finding some wounded in a local hospital, where they were being treated under stolen ALIASES, and then pressured those men to provide more information. They promised each German he would not be harmed if he cooperated, so most did. Then, when they were no longer useful, Gmul agents shot them and dumped the bodies. There was no sense in leaving them alive to tip the British command to Gmul’s clandestine mission.

Once a particular name had been verified, the second phase began: locating the target and gathering information for the final killing mission.

Gichon, who’d been born in Germany, often was assigned that job. “No one suspected me,” he said. “My vocal cords were of Berlin stock. I’d go to the corner grocery store or pub or even just knock on a door to convey greetings from someone. Most of the time, the people would respond to their real names, or recoil into vague silence, which was as good as a confirmation.” Once the identification was confirmed, Gichon would track the German’s movements and provide a detailed sketch of the house where he lived or the area that had been chosen for the abduction.

The killers themselves worked in teams of no more than five men. When meeting their target, they generally wore British military police uniforms, and they typically told their target they had come to take a man named so-and-so for interrogation. Most of the time, the German came without objection. As one of the unit’s soldiers, Shalom Giladi, related in his testimony to the Haganah Archive, the Nazi was sometimes killed instantly, and other times transported to some remote spot before being killed. “In time we developed quiet, rapid, and efficient methods of taking care of the SS men who fell into our hands,” he said.

“As anyone who has ever gotten into a pickup truck knows, a person hoisting himself up into one braces his foot on the rear running board, leans forward under the canvas canopy, and sort of rolls in. The man lying in wait inside the truck would take advantage of this natural tilt of the body.

The minute the German’s head protruded into the gloom, the ambusher would bend over him and wrap his arms under his chin, around his throat, in a kind of reverse choke hold, and, carrying that into a throttle embrace, the ambusher would fall back flat on the mattress, which absorbed every sound. The backward fall, while gripping the German’s head, would suffocate the German and break his neck instantly.

One day, a female SS officer escaped from an English detention camp next to our base. After the British discovered that the officer had escaped, they sent out photographs of her taken during her imprisonment, front and side view, to all the military police stations. We went through the refugee camp and identified her. When we addressed her in German, she played the fool and said she only knew Hungarian. That wasn’t a problem. A Hungarian kid went up to her and said: “A ship carrying illegal immigrants from Hungary is about to sail for Palestine. Pack up your belongings quietly and come with us.” She had no choice but to take the bait and went with us in the truck. During this operation, I sat with Zaro [Meir Zorea, later an IDF general] in the back while Karmi drove. The order Karmi gave us was: “When I get some distance to a suitable deserted place, I’ll honk the horn. That will be the sign to get rid of her.”

That’s what happened. Her last scream in German was: “Was ist los?” (“What’s going on?”). To make sure she was dead, Karmi shot her and we gave her body and the surroundings the appearance of a violent rape.

In most cases we brought the Nazis to a small line of fortifications in the mountains. There were fortified caves there, abandoned. Most of those facing their executions would lose their Nazi arrogance when they heard that we were Jews. “Have mercy on my wife and children!” We would ask him how many such screams the Nazis had heard in the extermination camps from their Jewish victims.”

The operation lasted only three months, from May to July, during which time Gmul killed somewhere between one hundred and two hundred people. Several historians who’ve researched Gmul’s operations maintain that the methods used to identify targets were insufficient, and that many innocents were killed. On many occasions, those critics argue, Gmul teams were exploited by their sources to carry out personal vendettas; in other cases, operatives simply identified the wrong person.

Gmul was closed down when the British, who’d heard complaints about disappearances from German families, grasped what was going on. They decided not to investigate further, but to transfer the Jewish Brigade to Belgium and the Netherlands, away from the Germans, and Haganah command issued a firm order to cease revenge operations. The Brigade’s new priorities, according to the Haganah, not the British, were to look after Holocaust survivors, to help organize the immigration of refugees to Palestine in the face of British opposition, and to appropriate weapons for the Yishuv.

YET, THOUGH THEY ORDERED Gmul to stop killing Germans in Europe, the Haganah’s leaders did not forsake retribution. The vengeance that had been halted in Europe, they decided, would be carried on in Palestine itself.

Members of the German Tempelgesellschaft (the Templer sect) had been expelled from Palestine by the British at the beginning of the war because of their nationality and Nazi sympathies. Many joined the German war effort and took an active part in the persecution and annihilation of the Jews. When the war ended, some of them returned to their former homes, in Sarona, in the heart of Tel Aviv, and other locations.

The leader of the Templers in Palestine was a man named Gotthilf Wagner, a wealthy industrialist who assisted the Wehrmacht and the Gestapo during the war. A Holocaust survivor by the name of Shalom Friedman, who was posing as a Hungarian priest, related that in 1944 he met Wagner, who “boasted that he was at Auschwitz and Buchenwald twice. When he was in Auschwitz, they brought out a large group of Jews, the youngest ones, and poured flammable liquid over them. ‘I asked them if they knew there was a hell on earth, and when they ignited them I told them that this was the fate awaiting their brethren in Palestine.” After the war, Wagner organized the attempts to allow the Templers to return to Palestine.

Rafi Eitan, the son of Jewish pioneers from Russia, was seventeen at the time. “Here come exultant Germans, who had been members of the Nazi Party, who enlisted to the Wehrmacht and SS, and they want to return to their property when all the Jewish property outside was destroyed,” he said.

Eitan was a member of a seventeen man force from the Haganah’s “special company” sent to liquidate Wagner, under a direct order from the Haganah high command. The Haganah chief of staff, Yitzhak Sadeh, realized that this was not a regular military operation and summoned the two men who had been selected to squeeze the trigger. To encourage them, he told them about a man he had shot with his pistol in Russia as revenge for a pogrom.

On March 22, 1946, after painstaking intelligence gathering, the hit squad lay in wait for Wagner in Tel Aviv. They forced him off the road onto a sandy lot at 123 Levinsky Street and shot him. Haganah’s underground radio station, Kol Yisraei (the Voice of Israel), announced the following day, “The wellknown Nazi Gotthilf Wagner, head of the German community in Palestine, was executed yesterday by the Hebrew underground. Let it be known that no Nazi will place a foot on the soil of the Land of Israel.”

Shortly thereafter, Haganah assassinated two other Templers in the Galilee and two more in Haifa, where the sect had also established communities.

“It had an immediate effect,” Eitan said. “The Templers disappeared from the country, leaving everything behind, and were never seen again.” The Templers’ neighborhood in Tel Aviv, Sarona, would become the headquarters of Israel’s armed forces and intelligence services. And Eitan, an assassin at seventeen, would help found the Mossad’s targeted killing unit.

The killing of the Templers was not merely a continuation of the acts of revenge against the Nazis in Europe, but signified a major change in policy. The lessons that the new Jews of Palestine learned from the Holocaust were that the Jewish people would always be under the threat of destruction, that others could not be relied upon to protect the Jews, and that the only way to do so was to have an independent state.

A people living with this sense of perpetual danger of annihilation is going to take any and all measures, however extreme, to obtain security, and will relate to international laws and norms in a marginal manner, if at all.

From now on, Ben-Gurion and the Haganah would adopt targeted killings, guerrilla warfare, and terrorist attacks as additional tools, above and beyond the propaganda and political measures that had always been used, in the effort to achieve the goal of a state and to preserve it. What had only a few years before been a means used only by the outcast extremists of Lehi and the Irgun was now seen by the mainstream as a viable weapon.

At first, Haganah units began assassinating Arabs who had murdered Jewish civilians. Then the militia’s high command ordered a “special company” to begin “personal terror operations,” a term used at the time for the targeted killings of officers of the British CID who had persecuted the Jewish underground and acted against the Jewish immigration to the Land of Israel. They were ordered to “blow up British intelligence centers that acted against Jewish acquisition of weapons” and “to take retaliatory action in cases where British military courts sentence Haganah members to death.”

Ben-Gurion foresaw that a Jewish state would soon be established in Palestine and that the new nation would immediately be forced to fight a war against Arabs in Palestine and repel invasions by the armies of neighboring Arab states.

The Haganah command thus also began secretly preparing for this all-out war, and as part of the preparations, an order, code named Zarzir (or Starling) was issued, providing for the assassination of the heads of the Arab population of Palestine.

WHILE THE HAGANAH SLOWLY stepped up the use of targeted killings, the radical undergrounds had their killing campaign in full motion, trying to push the British out of Palestine.

Yitzhak Shamir, now in command of Lehi, resolved not only to eliminate key figures of the British Mandate locally, killing CID personnel and making numerous attempts to do the same to the Jerusalem police chief, Michael Joseph McConnell, and the high commissioner, Sir Harold McMichael, but also Englishmen in other countries who posed a threat to his political objective. Walter Edward Guinness, more formally known as Lord Moyne, for example, was the British resident minister of state in Cairo, which was also under British rule. The Jews in Palestine considered Moyne a flagrant anti-Semite who had assiduously used his position to restrict the Yishuv’s power by significantly reducing immigration quotas for Holocaust survivors.

Shamir ordered Moyne killed. He sent two Lehi operatives, Eliyahu Hakim and Eliyahu Bet-Zuri, to Cairo, where they waited at the door to Moyne’s house. When Moyne pulled up, his secretary in the car with him, Hakim and Bet-Zuri sprinted to the car. One of them shoved a pistol through the window, aimed it at Moyne’s head, and fired three times. Moyne gripped his throat. “Oh, they’ve shot us!” he cried, and then slumped forward in his seat. Still, it was an amateurish operation. Shamir had counseled his young killers to arrange to escape in a car, but instead they fled on slow-moving bicycles. Egyptian police quickly apprehended them, and Hakim and Bet-Zuri were tried, convicted, and, six months later, hanged.

The assassination had a decisive effect on British officials, though not the one Shamir had envisioned. As Israel would learn repeatedly in future years, it is very hard to predict how history will proceed after someone is shot in the head.

After the unmitigated evil of the Holocaust, the attempted extermination of an entire people in Europe, there was growing sympathy in the West for the Zionist cause.

According to some accounts, up until the first week of November 1944, Britain’s prime minister, Winston Churchill, had been pushing his cabinet to support the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine. He rallied several influential figures to back the initiative, including Lord Moyne. It is not a stretch to assume, then, that Churchill might well have arrived at the Yalta summit with Franklin Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin with a clear, positive policy regarding the future of a Jewish state, had Lehi not intervened. Instead, after the Cairo killing, Churchill labeled the attackers “a new group of gangsters” and announced that he was reconsidering his position.

And the killing continued. On July 22, 1946, members of Menachem Begin’s Irgun planted 350 KG explosives in the south wing of the King David Hotel, in Jerusalem, where the British Mandate’s administration and army and intelligence offices were housed. A warning call from the Irgun apparently was dismissed as a hoax; the building was not evacuated before a massive explosion ripped through it. Ninety-one people were killed, and forty-five wounded.

This was not the targeted killing of a despised British official or a guerrilla attack on a police station. Instead, it was plainly an act of terror, aimed at a target with numerous civilians inside. Most damningly, many Jews were among the casualties.

The King David Hotel bombing sparked a fierce dispute in the Yishuv. Ben-Gurion immediately denounced the Irgun and called it “an enemy of the Jewish people.”

But the extremists were not deterred.

Three months after the King David attack, on October 31, a Lehi cell, again acting on their own, without Ben-Gurion’s approval or knowledge, bombed the British embassy in Rome. The embassy building was severely damaged, but thanks to the fact that the operation took place at night, only a security guard and two Italian pedestrians were injured.

Almost immediately after that, Lehi mailed letter bombs to every senior British cabinet member in London. On one level, this effort was a spectacular failure, not a single letter exploded, but on another, Lehi had made its point, and its reach, clear. The files of MI5, Britain’s security service, showed that Zionist terrorism was considered the most serious threat to British national security at the time, even more serious than the Soviet Union. Irgun cells in Britain were established, according to one MI5 memo, “to beat the dog in its own kennel.” British intelligence sources warned of a wave of attacks on “selected VIPs,” among them Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin and even Prime Minister Clement Attlee himself. At the end of 1947, a report to the British high commissioner tallied the casualties of the previous two years: 176 British Mandate personnel and civilians killed.

“Only these actions, these executions, caused the British to leave,” David Shomron said, decades after he shot Tom Wilkin dead on a Jerusalem street. “If Avraham Stern had not begun the war, the State of Israel would not have come into being.”

Avraham Stern, leader and founder of Lehi

One may argue with these statements. The shrinking British Empire ceded control of the majority of its colonies, including many countries where terror tactics had not been employed, due to economic reasons and increased demands for independence from the native populations. India, for instance, gained its independence right around the same time.

Nevertheless, Shomron and his ilk were firmly convinced that their own bravery and their extreme methods had brought about the departure of the British.

And it was the men who fought that bloody underground war, guerrillas, assassins, terrorists, who would play a central role in the building of the new state of Israel’s armed forces and intelligence community.

Chapter two


ON NOVEMBER 29, 1947, the United Nations General Assembly voted to divide Palestine, carving out a sovereign Jewish homeland. The partition wouldn’t go into effect until six months later, but Arab attacks began the very next day. Hassan Salameh, the commander of the Palestinian forces in the southern part of the country, and his fighters ambushed two Israeli buses near the town of Petah-Tikva, murdering eight passengers and injuring many others. Civil war between Palestinian Arabs and Jews had begun. The day after the bus attacks, Salameh stood in the central square of the Arab port city of Jaffa. “Palestine will turn into a bloodbath,” he promised his countrymen. He kept that promise: During the next two weeks, 48 Jews were killed and 155 wounded.

Salameh, who led a force of five hundred guerrillas and even directly attacked Tel Aviv, became a hero in the Arab world, lionized in the press. The Egyptian magazine Al-Musawar published an enormous photograph of Salameh briefing his forces in its January 12, 1948, issue, under the banner headline THE HERO HASSAN SALAMEH, COMMANDER OF THE SOUTHERN FRONT.

Ben-Gurion had prepared for such assaults. To his thinking, Palestine’s Arabs were the enemy, and the British, who would continue to rule until the partition took formal effect in May 1948, were their abettors. The Jews could depend only on themselves and their rudimentary defenses. Most of the Haganah troops were poorly trained and poorly equipped, their arms hidden in secret caches to avoid confiscation by the British. They were men and women who had served in the British Army, bolstered by new immigrants who had survived the Holocaust (some of them Red Army veterans), but they were vastly outnumbered by the combined forces of the Arab states. Ben-Gurion was aware of the estimations of the CIA and other intelligence services that the Jews would collapse under Arab attack. Some of his own people weren’t confident of victory. But Ben-Gurion, at least outwardly, displayed confidence in the Haganah’s ability to win.

To bridge the numerical gap, the Haganah’s plan, then, was to use selective force, picking targets for maximum effectiveness. As part of this conception, a month into the civil war, its high command launched Operation Starling, which named twenty-three leaders of the Palestinian Arabs who were to be targeted.

The mission, according to Haganah’s commander in chief, Yaakov Dori, was threefold: “Elimination or capture of the leaders of the Arab political parties; strikes against political centers; strikes against Arab economic and manufacturing centers.”

Hassan Salameh was at the top of the list of targets. Under the leadership of Hajj Amin al-Husseini, the grand mufti of Jerusalem and spiritual leader of the Palestinian Arabs, Salameh had helped lead the Arab Revolt of 1936, in which Arab guerrillas for three years attacked both British and Jewish targets.

Both al-Husseini and Salameh fled Palestine after they were put on the British Mandate’s most wanted list. In 1942, they joined forces with the SS and the Abwehr, the Nazis’ military intelligence agency, to plot Operation Atlas. It was a grandiose plan in which German and Arab commandos would parachute into Palestine and poison Tel Aviv’s water supply in order to kill as many Jews as possible, rousing the country’s Arabs to fight a holy war against the British occupiers. It failed miserably when the British, having cracked the Nazis’ Enigma code, captured Salameh and four others after they dropped into a desert ravine near Jericho on October 6, 1944.

After World War II, the British released al-Husseini and Salameh. The Jewish Agency’s Political Department, which oversaw much of the Yishuv’s covert activity in Europe, tried to locate the former and kill him several times between 1945 and 1948. The motive was partly revenge for the mufti’s alliance with Hitler, but it was also defensive: Al-Husseini might have been out of the country, but he was still actively involved in organizing attacks on Jewish settlements in northern Palestine and in attempts to assassinate Jewish leaders. Due to a lack of intelligence and trained operational personnel, all those attempts failed.

The hunt for Salameh, the first Haganah operation to integrate human and electronic intelligence, began promisingly. A unit belonging to SHAI, the Haganah’s intelligence branch, and commanded by Isser Harel, tapped into the central telephone trunk line that connected Jaffa with the rest of the country. Harel had a toolshed built on the grounds of the nearby Mikveh Israel agricultural school and filled it with pruning shears and lawn mowers. But hidden in a pit under the floor was a listening device clipped to the copper wires of Jaffa’s phone system. “I’ll never forget the face of the Arabic-speaking SHAI operative who put on a set of headphones and listened to the first conversation,” Harel later wrote in his memoir. “His mouth gaped in astonishment and he waved his hand emotionally to silence the others who were tensely waiting. The lines were bursting with conversations that political leaders and the chiefs of armed contingents were conducting with their colleagues.” One of the speakers was Salameh. In one of the intercepted calls, SHAI learned he would be traveling to Jaffa. Haganah agents planned to ambush him by felling a tree to block the road on which his car would be traveling.

But the ambush failed, and it was not the last failure. Salameh survived multiple assassination attempts before falling in combat in June 1948, his killer unaware of his identity. Almost all of the other Operation Starling targeted killing bids also failed, because of faulty intelligence or flawed performances by the unskilled and inexperienced hit men.

Isser Harel

THE ONLY OPERATIONS THAT did succeed were all carried out by two of the Haganah’s elite units, both of which belonged to the Palmach, the militia’s only well-trained and fairly weII-armed corps. One of these units was the Palyam, the “marine company,” and the other was “the Arab Platoon,” a clandestine commando unit whose members operated disguised as Arabs.

Palyam, the naval company, was ordered to take over the port in Haifa, Palestine’s most important maritime gateway, as soon as the British departed. Its task was to steal as much of the weaponry and equipment the British were beginning to ship out as possible, and to prevent the Arabs from doing likewise.

“We focused on the Arab arms acquirers in Haifa and the north. We searched for them and killed them,” recalled Avraham Dar, one of the Palyam men.

Dar, who was a native English speaker, and two other Palyam men posed as British soldiers wanting to sell stolen gear to the Palestinians for a large amount of cash. A rendezvous was set up for the exchange near an abandoned flour mill on the outskirts of an Arab village. The three Jews, wearing British uniforms, were at the meeting place when the Palestinians arrived. Four others who were hiding nearby waited for the signal and then fell upon the Arabs, killing them with metal pipes. “We feared that gunshots would wake the neighbors, and we decided on a silent operation,” said Dar.

The Arab Platoon was established when the Haganah decided it needed a nucleus of trained fighters who could operate deep inside enemy lines, gathering information and carrying out sabotage and targeted killing missions. The training of its men, most of them immigrants from Arab lands, included commando tactics and explosives, but also intensive study of Islam and Arab customs. They were nicknamed Mistaravim, the name by which Jewish communities went in some Arab countries, where they practiced the Jewish religion, but were similar to the Arabs in all other respects-dress, language, social customs, etc.

Cooperation between the two units produced an attempt on the life of Sheikh Nimr al-Khatib, a head of the Islamic organizations of Palestine, one of the original targets of Operation Starling, because of his considerable influence over the Palestinian street. The Mistaravim could move around without being stopped by either the British or the Arabs. In February 1948, they ambushed al-Khatib when he returned from a trip to Damascus with a carload of ammunition. He was badly wounded, left Palestine, and removed himself from any active political roles.

A few days later, Avraham Dar heard from one of his port worker informants that a group of Arabs in a café had been talking about their plan to detonate a vehicle packed with explosives in a crowded Jewish section of Haifa. The British ambulance that they had acquired for this purpose was being readied in a garage in Nazareth Road, in the Arab part of the city. The Mistaravim prepared a bomb of their own in a truck that they drove into the Arab district, posing as workers engaged in fixing a burst pipe, and parked next to the wall of the garage. “What are you doing here? No parking here! Move the truck!” the men in the garage yelled at them in Arabic.

“Right away, we’re just getting a drink, and we need to take a leak” the Mistaravim replied in Arabic, adding a few juicy curses. They walked away to a waiting car, and minutes later their bomb went off, detonating the one in the ambulance as well, and killing the five Palestinians working on it.

ON MAY 14, 1948, Ben-Gurion declared the establishment of the new state of Israel and became its first prime minister and minister of defense. He knew what to expect next.

Years earlier, Ben-Gurion had ordered the formation of a deep network of sources in the Arab countries. Now, three days before the establishment of Israel, Reuven Shiloah, director of the Political Department of the Jewish Agency, the agency’s intelligence division, had informed him that “the Arab states have decided finally to launch a simultaneous attack on May 15. They are relying on the lack of heavy armaments and a Hebrew air force.” Shiloah provided many details about the attack plan.

The information was accurate.

At midnight, after the state was declared, seven armies attacked. They far outnumbered and were infinitely better equipped than the Jewish forces, and they achieved significant gains early on, conquering settlements and inflicting casualties.

The secretary general of the Arab League, Abdul Rahman Azzam Pasha, declared, “This will be a war of great destruction and slaughter that will be remembered like the massacres carried out by the Mongols and the Crusaders.”

But the Jews, now officially “Israelis”, rapidly regrouped and even went on the offensive. After a month, a truce was mediated by the United Nations special envoy, Count Folke Bernadotte. Both sides were exhausted and in need of rest and resupply.

When fighting resumed, the tables were turned and, with excellent intelligence and battle management, along with the help of many Holocaust survivors who had only just arrived from Europe, the Israelis drove the Arab forces back and eventually conquered far more territory than had been allocated to the Jewish state in the UN partition plan.

Though Israel had repelled superior armies, Ben-Gurion was not sanguine about the embryonic Israel Defense Forces’ short-term victory. The Arabs might have lost the first battles, but they, both those who lived in Palestine and those in the Arab states surrounding Israel, refused to accept the legitimacy of the new nation. They vowed to destroy Israel and return the refugees to their homes.

Ben-Gurion knew the IDF couldn’t hope to defend Israel’s long, convoluted borders through sheer manpower. From the remnants of the Haganah’s SHAI intelligence operations, he had to begin building a proper espionage system fit for a legitimate state.

On June 7, Ben-Gurion summoned his top aides, headed by Shiloah, to his office in the former Templer colony in Tel Aviv. “Intelligence is one of the military and political tools that we urgently need for this war,” Shiloah wrote in a memo to Ben-Gurion. “It will have to become a permanent tool, including in our peacetime political apparatus.”

Ben-Gurion did not need to be persuaded. After all, a large part of the surprising, against-all-odds establishment of the state, and its defense, was owed to the effective use of accurate intelligence.

That day, he ordered the establishment of three agencies. The first was the Intelligence Department of the IsraeI Defense Forces General Staff, later commonly referred to by its Hebrew acronym, AMAN. Second was the Shin Bet (acronym for the General Security Service), responsible for internal security and created as a sort of hybrid between the American FBI and the British Ml5. (The organization later changed its name to the Israeli Security Agency, but most Israelis still refer to it by its acronym, Shabak, or, more commonly, as in this book, as Shin Bet.) And a third, the Political Department, now belonging to the new Foreign Ministry, instead of the Jewish Agency, would engage in foreign espionage and intelligence collection. Abandoned Templer homes in the Sarona neighborhood, near the Defense Ministry, were assigned to each outfit, putting Ben-Gurion’s office at the center of an ostensibly organized force of security services.

But nothing in those first months and years was so tidy. Remnants of Haganah agencies were absorbed into various security services or spy rings, then shuffled and reabsorbed into another. Add to that the myriad turf battles and clashing egos of what were essentially revolutionaries, and much was chaos in the espionage underground. “They were hard years,” said Isser Harel, one of the founding fathers of Israeli intelligence. “We had to establish a country and defend it. But the structure of the services and the division of labor was determined without any systematic judgment, without discussions with all the relevant people, in an almost dilettantish and conspiratorial way.”

Under normal conditions, administrators would establish clear boundaries and procedures, and field agents would patiently cultivate sources of information over a period of years. But Israel did not have this luxury. Its intelligence operations had to be built on the fly and under siege, while the young country was fighting for its very existence.

THE FIRST CHALLENGE THAT Ben-Gurion’s spies faced was an internal one: There were Jews who blatantly defied his authority, among them the remnants of the right-wing underground movements. An extreme example of this defiance was the Altalena affair, in June 1948. A ship by that name, dispatched from Europe by the Irgun, was due to arrive, carrying immigrants and arms. But the organization refused to hand all the weapons over to the army of the new state, insisting that some of them be given to still intact units of its own. Ben-Gurion, who had been informed of the plans by agents inside Irgun, ordered that the ship be taken over by force. In the ensuing fight, it was sunk, and sixteen Irgun fighters and three IDF soldiers were killed. Shortly afterward, security forces rounded up two hundred Irgun members all over the country, effectively ending its existence.

Yitzhak Shamir and the Lehi operatives under his command also refused to accept the more moderate Ben-Gurion’s authority. Over the summer, during the truce, UN envoy Bernadotte crafted a tentative peace plan that would have ended the fighting. But the plan was unacceptable to Lehi and Shamir, who accused Bernadotte of collaborating with the Nazis during World War II and of drafting a proposal that would redraw Israeli borders in such a way, including giving most of the Negev and Jerusalem to the Arabs, and putting the Haifa port and Lydda airport under international control, as well as obliging the Jewish state to take back 300,000 Arab refugees, that the country would not survive.

Lehi issued several public warnings, in the form of notices posted in the streets of cities: ADVICE TO THE AGENT BERNADOTTE: CLEAR OUT OF OUR COUNTRY. The underground radio was even more outspoken, declaring, “The Count will end up like the Lord” (a reference to the assassinated Lord Moyne). Bernadotte ignored the warnings, and even ordered UN observers not to carry arms, saying, “The United Nations flag protects us.”

Convinced that the envoy’s plan would be accepted, Shamir ordered his assassination. On September 17, four months after statehood was declared, and the day after Bernadotte submitted his plan to the UN Security Council, he was traveling with his entourage in a convoy of three white DeSoto sedans from UN headquarters to the Rehavia neighborhood of Jewish Jerusalem, when a jeep blocked their way. Three young men wearing peaked caps jumped out. Two of them shot the tires of the UN vehicles, and the third, Yehoshua Cohen, opened the door of the car Bernadotte was traveling in and opened fire with his Schmeisser MP40 submachine gun. The first burst hit the man sitting next to Bernadotte, a French colonel by the name of André Serot, but the next, more accurate, hit the count in the chest. Both men were killed. The whole attack was over in seconds, “like thunder and lightning, the time it takes to fire fifty rounds,” is the way the Israeli liaison officer, Captain Moshe Hillman, who was in the car with the victims, described it. The perpetrators were never caught.

The assassination infuriated and profoundly embarrassed the Jewish leadership. The Security Council condemned it as “a cowardly act which appears to have been committed by a criminal group of terrorists in Jerusalem,” and The New York Times wrote the following day, “No Arab armies could have done so much harm to the Jewish state in so short atime.”

Ben-Gurion saw Lehi’s rogue operation as a serious challenge to his authority, one that could lead to a coup or even a civil war. He reacted immediately, outlawing both the Irgun and Lehi. He ordered Shin Bet chief Isser Harel to round up Lehi members. Topping the wanted list was Yitzhak Shamir. He wasn’t captured, but many others were, and they were locked up under heavy guard. Lehi ceased to exist as an organization.

Ben-Gurion was grateful to Harel for his vigorous action against the underground and made him the number-one intelligence official in the country.

A short, solid, and driven man, Isser Harel was influenced by the Russian Bolshevik revolutionary movement and its use of sabotage, guerrilla warfare, and assassination, but he abhorred communism. Under his direction, the Shin Bet kept constant surveillance and conducted political espionage against Ben-Gurion’s political opponents, the leftwing socialist and Communist parties, and the rightwing Herut party formed by veterans of Irgun and Lehi.

Meanwhile, Ben-Gurion and his foreign minister, Moshe Sharett, were at loggerheads over what policy should be adopted toward the Arabs. Sharett was the most prominent of Israel’s early leaders who believed diplomacy was the best way to achieve regional peace and thus secure the country. Even before independence, he made secret overtures to Jordan’s King Abdullah and Lebanon’s prime minister, Riad al-Solh, who would be instrumental in forming the coalition of invading Arabs, and who already had been largely responsible for the Palestinian militias that exacted heavy losses on the pre-state Yishuv. Despite al-Solh’s virulently anti Jewish rhetoric and anti Israel actions, he secretly met with Eliyahu Sasson, one of Sharett’s deputies, several times in Paris in late 1948 to discuss a peace agreement. “If we want to establish contacts with the Arabs to end the war,” said Sasson when Sharett, enthusiastic about his secret contacts, took him to report to the cabinet, “we have to be in contact with those people who are now in power. With those who have declared war on us and who are having trouble continuing.”

Those diplomatic overtures obviously were not effective, and Ben-Gurion, on December 12, 1948, ordered military intelligence agents to assassinate al-Solh.

“Sharett was vehemently opposed to the idea,” recalled Asher (Arthur) Ben-Natan, a leading figure in the Foreign Ministry’s Political Department, the arm responsible for covert activities abroad. “And when our department was asked to help military intelligence execute the order, through our contacts in Beirut, he countermanded the order, effectively killing it.”

This incident, plus a number of other clashes between Harel and Sharett, made Ben-Gurion’s blood boil. He considered diplomacy a weak substitute for a strong military and robust intelligence, and he viewed Sharett, personally, as a competitor who threatened the prime minister’s control. In December 1949, Ben-Gurion removed the Political Department from the control of the Foreign Ministry and placed it under his direct command. He later gave the agency a new name: the Institute for Intelligence and Special Operations. More commonly, though, it was known simply as “the Institute”, the Mossad.

With the establishment of the Mossad, Israeli inteIligence services coalesced into the three pronged community that survives in more or less the same form today: AMAN, the military intelligence arm that supplies information to the IDF; the Shin Bet, responsible for internal intelligence, counterterror, and counterespionage; and the Mossad, which deals with covert activities beyond the country’s borders.

More important, it was a victory for those who saw the future of the Israeli state as more dependent upon a strong army and intelligence community than upon diplomacy. That victory was embodied in real estate: The former Templer homes in Tel Aviv that the Political Department had occupied were handed over to the Mossad. It was also a personal victory for Isser Harel. Already in charge of the Shin Bet, he was installed as the chief of the Mossad as well, making him one of the most powerful, and secretive figures in early Israeli history.

From that point on, Israeli foreign and security policy would be determined by jousting between Tel Aviv, where the military high command, the intelligence headquarters, and the Defense Ministry were located, and where Ben-Gurion spent most of his time, and Jerusalem, where the Foreign Ministry was housed in a cluster of prefabricated huts. Tel Aviv always had the upper hand.

Ben-Gurion kept all of the agencies under his direct control. The Mossad and the Shin Bet were under him in his capacity as prime minister, and military intelligence fell under his purview because he was also minister of defense. It was an enormous concentration of covert, and political, power. Yet from the beginning, it was kept officially hidden from the Israeli public. Ben-Gurion forbade anyone from acknowledging, let alone revealing, that this sprawling web of official institutions even existed. In fact, mentioning the name Shin Bet or Mossad in public was prohibited until the 1960s. Because their existence could not be acknowledged, Ben-Gurion prevented the creation of a legal basis for those same agencies’ operations. No law laid out their goals, roles, missions, powers, or budgets or the relations between them.

In other words, Israeli intelligence from the outset occupied a shadow realm, one adjacent to yet separate from the country’s democratic institutions. The activities of the intelligence community, most of it (Shin Bet and the Mossad) under the direct command of the prime minister, took place without any effective supervision by Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, or by any other independent external body.

In this shadow realm, “state security” was used to justify a large number of actions and operations that, in the visible world, would have been subject to criminal prosecution and long prison terms: constant surveillance of citizens because of their ethnic or political affiliations; interrogation methods that included prolonged detention without judicial sanction, and torture; perjury in the courts and concealment of the truth from counsel and judges.

The most notable example was targeted killing. In Israeli law, there is no death penalty, but Ben-Gurion circumvented this by giving himself the authority to order extrajudicial executions.

The justification for maintaining that shadow realm was that anything other than complete secrecy could lead to situations that would threaten the very existence of Israel. Israel had inherited from the British Mandate a legal system that included state of emergency provisions to enforce order and suppress rebellions. Among those provisions was a requirement that all print and broadcast media submit any reports on intelligence and army activities to a military censor, who vetoed much of the material. The state of emergency has not been rescinded as of the time of this writing. But as a sop to the hungry media, Ben-Gurion was shrewd enough to establish an Editors Committee, which was composed of the editors in chief of the print and radio news outlets. From time to time, Ben-Gurion himself, or someone representing him, would appear before the committee to share covert tidbits while explaining why those tidbits could never, under any circumstances, be released to the public. The editors were thrilled because they had gained for themselves entrée to the twilight realm and its mysteries. In gratitude, they imposed on themselves a level of self-censorship that went beyond even that imposed by the actual censor.

IN JULY 1952, AN exhibit of paintings by the Franco German artist Charles Duvall opened at the National Museum in Cairo. Duvall, a tall young man with a cigarette permanently dangling from his lip, had moved to Egypt from Paris two years earlier, announcing that he’d “fallen in love with the land of the Nile.” The Cairo press published a number of fawning pieces about Duvall and his work, strongly influenced, the critics said, by Picasso, and he soon became a fixture in high society. Indeed, the Egyptian minister of culture attended the opening of Duvall’s show and even purchased two of the paintings that he left on loan to the museum, where they would hang for the next twenty-three years.

Five months later, when his show had closed, Duvall said that his mother had fallen ill and he had to rush back to Paris to care for her. After his return to France, he sent a few letters to old friends in Egypt, and then he was never heard from again.

Shlomo Cohen-Abarbanel

Duvall’s real name was Shlomo Cohen-Abarbanel, and he was an Israeli spy. He was the youngest of four sons born to a prominent rabbi in Hamburg in Germany. In the winter of 1933, as the Nazis rose to power and began enforcing race laws, the family fled to France and then Palestine. Fourteen years later, in 1947, Cohen-Abarbanel, whose artistic abilities had been apparent since he was a toddler, returned to Paris to study painting at the age of twenty-seven. A short time later, Haganah intelligence personnel heard about his talents and recruited him to forge passports and papers to be used by European and North African Jews being smuggled into Palestine in violation of British immigration laws. It was the beginning of a long career in espionage. Portraying himself as a bohemian artist, Cohen-Abarbanel operated networks of agents in Egypt and recruited new agents throughout the Arab world. He collected information about Nazi war criminals who had taken refuge in the Middle East, and he reported to his superiors on the initial attempts of German rocket scientists to sell their services to Arab armies. When he returned to Israel in 1952, he pushed his superiors in the young intelligence agency the Mossad to invest more resources into finding and killing Nazis.

A short time after taking command of the Mossad, Isser Harel asked Cohen-Abarbanel to design an official emblem for the agency. The artist shut himself in his room and emerged with a design, which he’d drawn by hand. At its center was a seven-branched menorah, the sacred lamp that stood in the Temple in Jerusalem that the Romans destroyed in AD. 70. The seal also bore a legendverse 6 from chapter 24 of the Book of Proverbs, authored, according to Jewish tradition, by King Solomon himself: “For by subterfuge you will make war.” This was later changed to another line from Proverbs (chapter 11, verse 14), which reads, “Where there is no subterfuge, the nation falls, but in the multitude of counselors there is safety.” Cohen-Abarbanel’s meaning could not have been clearer: using covert stratagems, the Mossad would be the supreme shield of the new Jewish commonwealth, ensuring that never again would Jews be dishonored, that never again would Judea fall.

The Mossad’s charter, written by Harel, was equally broad and ambitious. The organization’s purpose, according to its official orders, was “secret collection of information (strategic, political, operational) outside the country’s borders; carrying out special operations outside Israel’s borders; thwarting the development and acquisition of unconventional weapons by hostile states; prevention of terror attacks against Israeli and Jewish targets outside Israel; development and maintenance of intelligence and political ties with countries that do not maintain diplomatic relations with Israel; bringing to Israel Jews from countries that refused to allow them to leave, and creating frameworks for the defense of the Jews still in those countries.” In other words, it was charged with not only protecting Israel and its citizens but also standing as a sentinel for world Jewry.

ISRAEL’S YOUNG INTELLIGENCE SERVICES had to offer a response to a series of challenges presented by the ring of twenty-one hostile Arab nations that surrounded Israel and threatened to destroy it. There were those in the top echelons of the defense establishment who believed that these challenges would best be met by the use of pinpointed special operations far beyond enemy lines.

To this end, AMAN set up a unit called Intelligence Service 13 (which in Jewish tradition is considered a lucky number). Avraham Dar, now one of its prominent officers, went to Egypt in 1951 to set up a network of agents culled from local Zionist activists. On various pretexts, the recruits traveled to Europe, and then to Israel for training in espionage and sabotage. Outlining the goal of his network, Dar explained that “the central problem that made Egypt so antagonistic to Israel was the way King Farouk ran the government. If we could get rid of that obstacle many problems would be solved. In other words”, and here Dar turned to a Spanish proverb, “no dog, no rabies.”

King Farouk , Queen Farida and his daughters

Getting rid of “the dog” proved to be unnecessary, Farouk soon was overthrown in a coup. And AMAN’s assumption that things would be better when he was gone turned out to be totally groundless. However, the idea that this already established Egyptian network could be employed to change the course of history in the region was simply too tempting for Israel’s leaders to let go. AMAN decided to use these local agents against the Free Officers Movement, which had just recently ousted Farouk, “aiming to undermine Western confidence in the Egyptian regime by causing public insecurity and provoking demonstrations, arrests, and retaliatory actions, with Israel’s role remaining unexposed.” But the whole operation ended in catastrophe.

Despite intensive training, AMAN’s recruits were amateurish and sloppy, and all of their sabotage operations ended in failure. Eventually, eleven operatives were ferreted out by Egyptian authorities. Some were executed after short trials, and one killed himself after suffering gruesome torture. The lucky ones were sentenced to long prison terms and hard labor.

The ensuing turmoil gave rise to a major political dispute that raged in Israel for many years, over whether AMAN had received the approval of the political establishment for these abortive operations.

The main lesson drawn by Israel was that local Jews should never be recruited in hostile “target” countries. Their capture was almost certain to end in death, and send ripples throughout the entire Jewish community. Despite the temptation to use people who were already on the ground and didn’t need to establish a cover story, Israel almost never again did.

However, the underlying conviction that Israel could act boldly and change history through special operations behind enemy lines remained, and was in fact cemented in place as the core principle of Israel’s security doctrine. Indeed, this philosophy, that special ops behind enemy lines should be at least one of the country’s primary methods of national defense, would predominate among Israel’s political and intelligence establishment all the way up to the present day.

And while many of the world’s established nations kept a separation between the intelligence outfits that gathered information and the operations units that utilized that information to conduct clandestine missions, from the very beginning Israel’s special forces were an integral part of its intelligence agencies. In America, for instance, specialoperations units Delta Force and SEAL Team Six are components of the Joint Special Operations Command, not the CIA or military intelligence. In Israel, however, special operations units were under the direct control of the intelligence agencies Mossad and AMAN.

The goal was to continually translate gathered intelligence into operations. While other nations at the time were also gathering intelligence during peacetime, they did so only to be prepared in case war broke out, or to authorize the occasional special-ops attack. Israel, on the other hand, would constantly use its intelligence to develop special-ops attacks behind enemy lines, in the hope of avoiding all-out warfare entirely.

THE FASHIONING OF AN emblem, a charter, and a military philosophy was one thing. Implementation, as Harel was soon to learn, was another thing altogether, especially when it came to aggressive action.

The Mossad’s first major operation ended badly. In November 1954, a captain in the Israeli Navy named Alexander Yisrael, a philandering grifter deeply in debt, slipped out of the country on a bogus passport and tried to sell top-secret documents to the Egyptian embassy in Rome. A Mossad agent working in that embassy tipped off his superiors in Tel Aviv, who immediately began to develop a plan to kidnap Yisraeli and return him to Israel for trial as a traitor.

For Harel, this was a critical test, both for the security of the nation and his career. In those formative years, the heads of all the agencies jockeyed for power and prestige, and one significant failure could prove professionally fatal. He assembled a top-notch team of Mossad and Shin Bet operatives to grab Yisraeli in Europe. He put his second cousin, Rafi Eitan, who as a teenager had assassinated two German Templers, in charge.

Eitan says that “there were some who proposed finding Yisraeli and killing him as quickly as possible. But Harel squelched this immediately. ‘We don’t kill Jews,’ he said, and declared this was to be an abduction operation.” Harel himself said, “It never occurred to me to issue an order to kill one of our own. I wanted him to be brought to Israel and put on trial for treason.”

This is an important point. There is a tradition of mutual responsibility in Judaism, and a deep connection among all Jews, as if they are one big family. These values are seen as having kept the Jewish people alive as a nation throughout the two thousand years of exile, and for a Jew to harm another Jew is considered intolerable. Back in the days of the Palestinian underground, when it was effectively impossible to hold trials, eliminating Jewish traitors was deemed legitimate to a certain extent, but not after the state was established. “We do not kill Jews”, even if they were believed to be a grave danger to national security, became an iron law of the Israeli intelligence community.

The plan unfolded perfectly at first. Eitan and three others pinched Yisraeli after he’d been stopped by another Mossad female asset at a Paris intersection. The captive was taken to a safe house, where a Mossad doctor injected him with a sedative and placed him in a crate typically used to transfer arms, before putting him on a long, multi-stop flight on an Israeli Air Force cargo plane. At every stop, Yisraeli was injected again until, just as the plane touched down in Athens, he suffered a massive seizure and died. Following Harel’s orders, one of Eitan’s men ended up dumping the body from the back of the plane into the sea.

Harel’s people fed the Israeli press false information that Yisraeli, who left behind a pregnant wife, had stolen money and settled somewhere in South America. Harel, who was very embarrassed that an operation of his had ended in the death of a Jew, ordered that all the records on the case be secreted deep in one of the Mossad’s safes. But Harel’s rivals kept a copy of some of the documents, to be used against him someday if so required.

Harel also came to the conclusion that there was an urgent need for the formation of a special unit specifically designed to carry out sabotage and targeted killing missions. He began searching for “trained fighters, tough and loyal, who would not hesitate to squeeze the trigger when necessary.” He found them in the last place he would have been expected to look: the veterans of the Irgun and Lehi, against whom he had once fought a bitter struggle.

Ben-Gurion had forbidden the employment of any former members of the right-wing underground in government departments, and many of them were jobless, frustrated, and hungry for action. The Shin Bet believed that some of them were dangerous and were liable to start underground movements against the regime.

Harel aimed to kill two birds: to set up his specialops unit, and to get the underground fighters into action under his command, outside the borders of the state.

Irgun parade in 1948

David Shomron, Yitzhak Shamir, and those of their comrades in the Irgun and Lehi who were deemed tough and daring enough were invited to Harel’s home in north Tel Aviv and sworn in. This was the establishment of Mifratz, Hebrew for “Gulf” or “Bay,” the Mossad’s first hit team.

Chapter Three


ISRAEL’S WAR OF INDEPENDENCE officially ended with armistice agreements in 1949. The unofficial fighting never stopped. Throughout the early 1950s, the country was constantly infiltrated by Arabs from the parts of Palestine that remained in Arab hands after the war, namely, the Gaza Strip, in the south, which was administered by Egypt, and the West Bank, in the east, which Jordan had annexed. The IDF estimated that in 1952, about sixteen thousand infiltrations occurred (eleven thousand from Jordan and the rest from Egypt). Some of those infiltrators were refugees who had fled during the War of Independence, either voluntarily or involuntarily, and were trying to return to their villages and salvage what was left of their property. But many others were militants whose objective was to kill Jews and spread terror. They called themselves fedayeen“those who self-sacrifice.”

The Egyptians, despite having signed an armistice, quickly realized that the fedayeen could fight a proxy war on their behalf. With proper training and supervision, those Palestinian militants could wreak substantial havoc on Israel while giving Egypt the cover of plausible deniabiiity.

A young captain in Egyptian military intelligence, Mustafa Hafez, was put in charge of organizing the fedayeen. Beginning in mid-1953, Hafez (along with Salah Mustafa, the Egyptian military attache in Jordan’s capital, Amman) started recruiting and training guerrilla squads to be dispatched into Israel’s south. For years, those squads, six hundred fedayeen in total, sneaked across the border from Gaza and laid waste to anything they could. They blew up water pipes, set fire to fields, bombed train tracks, mined roads; they murdered farmers in their fields and yeshiva students at study, altogether some one thousand civilians between 1951 and 1955. They spread panic and fear to the point that Israelis refrained from driving at night on main roads in the south.

Mustafa Hafez

The proxy squads were considered a huge success. The Israelis couldn’t hold Egypt or Jordan directly responsible. They would respond instead by recruiting their own proxies, turning Arabs into informers, collecting intelligence on fedayeen targets, and then assassinating them. Those tasks were assigned, for the most part, to an IDF intelligence team known as Unit 504.

Some of the men of Unit 504 had been raised in Arab neighborhoods of Palestine and thus were intimately familiar with the language and customs of the locals. Unit 504 was under the command of Rehavia Vardi. Polish-born, Vardi had served as a senior Haganah intelligence officer prior to the establishment of the state, and he was known for his sharp wit and blunt statements. “Every Arab,” he said, “can be recruited on the basis of one of the three PS, praise, payment or pussy.” Whether through those three Ps or other means, Vardi and his men recruited four hundred to five hundred agents, who passed on invaluable information in the period between 1948 and 1956. Those recruits, in turn, provided Unit 504 with information on a number of senior fedayeen dispatchers. Several were identified, located, and targeted, and in ten to fifteen of those cases, the Israelis persuaded their Arab agents to place a bomb near that target.

That was when they would call Unit 188. That was when they required the services of Natan Rotberg.

“IT WAS ALL VERY, very secret,” Rotberg said. “We were not allowed to mention the names of units; we were not allowed to tell anyone where we were going or where we were serving or, it goes without saying, what we were doing.”

Rotberg, a thick-necked and good-natured kibbutznik with a bushy mustache, was one of a small group, only a few hundred men, who took part in forming the original triumvirate of AMAN, Shin Bet, and the Mossad. In 1951, when Rotberg was assigned to a marine commando unit called Shayetet 13 (Flotilla 13), Israeli intelligence set up a secret facility north of Tel Aviv to teach “special demolitions” and manufacture sophisticated bombs. Rotberg, Flotilla 13’s explosives officer, was appointed to run it.

Rotberg had a large vat installed in which he mixed TNT and pentaerythritol tetranitrate and other chemicals into deadly concoctions. But though his mixtures were designed to kill people, he claimed that he did not act with hatred in his heart. “You need to know how to forgive,” he said. “You need to know how to forgive the enemy. However, we have no authority to forgive people like bin Laden. That, only God can do. Our job is to arrange a meeting between them. In my laboratory, I opened a matchmaker’s office, a bureau that arranged such meetings. I orchestrated more than thirty such meetings.”

When Rehavia Vardi and his men had identified a target, they would go to Rotberg for the bomb. “At first we worked with double-bottomed wicker baskets,” Rotberg said. “I would cushion the bottom part of the basket with impermeable paper and pour the concoction in from the vat. Then we’d put on a cover and, above that, fill it up with fruits and vegetables. For the triggering mechanism, we used pencils into which we inserted ampoules filled with acid that ate away at the cover until it reached the detonator, activated it, and set off the charge. The problem with the acid was that weather conditions affected the time it took to eat away the cover, producing nonuniform timing. A bomb in the Gaza Strip would go off at a different time than one in the West Bank, where it is generally colder. We then switched to clocks, which are much more accurate.”

But Rotberg’s bombs were hardly enough to solve the fedayeen problem. According to several sources, explosives killed only seven targets between mid-1951 and mid-1953, while in the process killing six civilians.

The attacks continued unabated, terrorizing Israeli civilians, humiliating the Israel Defense Forces. Vardi and his men, talented as they were at recruiting agents, managed to glean only sparse information about the identities of the fedayeen handlers, and even when the unit did ferret out specific targets, the IDF was unable to find or kill them. “We had our limitations,” says Yigal Simon, a Unit 504 veteran and later on its commander. “We didn’t always have intelligence, we couldn’t send our agents everywhere, and they didn’t appreciate us enough in the IDF. It was important to the high command to show that the IDF, Jewish hands, could execute these actions.”…



RISE AND KILL FIRST: The Secret History Of Israel’s Targeted Assassinations

by Ronen Bergman

get it at Amazon.com

My son, Osama bin Laden: the al-Qaida leader’s mother speaks for the first time – Martin Chulov.

“He was a very good child until he met some people who pretty much brainwashed him in his early 20s. You can call it a cult. They got money for their cause. I would always tell him to stay away from them, and he would never admit to me what he was doing, because he loved me so much.”

Nearly 17 years since 9/11, Osama bin Laden’s family remains an influential part of Saudi society as well as a reminder of the darkest moment in the kingdom’s history. Can they escape his legacy?

On the corner couch of a spacious room, a woman wearing a brightly patterned robe sits expectantly. The red hijab that covers her hair is reflected in a glass-fronted cabinet; inside, a framed photograph of her firstborn son takes pride of place between family heirlooms and valuables. A smiling, bearded figure wearing a military jacket, he features in photographs around the room: propped against the wall at her feet, resting on a mantlepiece. A supper of Saudi meze and a lemon cheesecake has been spread out on a large wooden dining table.

Alia Ghanem is Osama bin Laden’s mother, and she commands the attention of everyone in the room. On chairs nearby sit two of her surviving sons, Ahmad and Hassan, and her second husband, Mohammed al-Attas, the man who raised all three brothers. Everyone in the family has their own story to tell about the man linked to the rise of global terrorism; but it is Ghanem who holds court today, describing a man who is, to her, still a beloved son who somehow lost his way. “My life was very difficult because he was so far away from me,” she says, speaking confidently. “He was a very good kid and he loved me so much.” Now in her mid-7os and in variable health, Ghanem points at al-Attas a lean, fit man dressed, like his two sons, in an immaculately pressed white thobe, a gown worn by men across the Arabian peninsula. “He raised Osama from the age of three. He was a good man, and he was good to Osama.”

The family have gathered in a corner of the mansion they now share in Jeddah, the Saudi Arabian city that has been home to the Bin Laden clan for generations. They remain one of the kingdom’s wealthiest families: their dynastic construction empire built much of modern Saudi Arabia, and is deeply woven into the country’s establishment. The Bin Laden home reflects their fortune and influence, a large spiral staircase at its centre leading to cavernous rooms. Ramadan has come and gone, and the bowls of dates and chocolates that mark the three-day festival that follows it sit on tabletops throughout the house. Large manors line the rest of the street; this is well-to-do Jeddah, and while no guard stands watch outside, the Bin Ladens are the neighbourhood’s best-known residents.

For years, Ghanem has refused to talk about Osama, as has his wider family throughout his two decade reign as al-Qaida leader, a period that saw the strikes on New York and Washington DC, and ended more than nine years later with his death in Pakistan.

Now, Saudi Arabia’s new leadership, spearheaded by the ambitious 32-year-old heir to the throne, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has agreed to my request to speak to the family. (As one of the country’s most influential families, their movements and engagements remain closely monitored.) Osama’s legacy is as grave a blight on the kingdom as it is on his family, and senior officials believe that, by allowing the Bin Ladens to tell their story, they can demonstrate that an outcast not an agent was responsible for 9/ 1 1. Saudi Arabia’s critics have long alleged that Osama had state support, and the families of a number of 9/ 1 1 victims have launched (so far unsuccessful) legal actions against the kingdom. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers came from Saudi Arabia.

Unsurprisingly, Osama bin Laden’s family are cautious in our initial negotiations; they are not sure whether opening old wounds will prove cathartic or harmful. But after several days of discussion, they are willing to talk. When we meet on a hot day in early June, a minder from the Saudi government sits in the room, though she makes no attempt to influence the conversation. (We are also joined by a translator.)

Sitting between Osama’s half-brothers, Ghanem recalls her firstborn as a shy boy who was academically capable. He became a strong, driven, pious figure in his early 20s, she says, while studying economics at King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah, where he was also radicalised. “The people at university changed him,” Ghanern says. “He became a different man.” One of the men he met there was Abdullah Azzam, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood who was later exiled from Saudi Arabia and became Osama’s spiritual adviser. “He was a very good child until he met some people who pretty much brainwashed him in his early 20s. You can call it a cult. They got money for their cause. I would always tell him to stay away from them, and he would never admit to me what he was doing, because he loved me so much.”

In the early 1980s, Osama travelled to Afghanistan to fight the Russian occupation. “Everyone who met him in the early days respected him,” says Hassan, picking up the story. “At the start, we were very proud of him. Even the Saudi government would treat him in a very noble, respectful way. And then came Osama the mujahid.”

A long uncomfortable silence follows, as Hassan struggles to explain the transformation from zealot to global jihadist. “I am very proud of him in the sense that he was my oldest brother,” he eventually continues. “He taught me a lot. But I don’t think I’m very proud of him as a man. He reached superstardom on a global stage, and it was all for nothing.”

Ghanem listens intently, becoming more animated when the conversation returns to Osama’s formative years. “He was very straight. Very good at school. He really liked to study. He spent all his money on Afghanistan, he would sneak off under the guise of family business.” Did she ever suspect he might become a jihadist? “It never crossed my mind.” How did it feel when she realised he had? “We were extremely upset. I did not want any of this to happen. Why would he throw it all away like that?”

The family say they last saw Osama in Afghanistan in 1999, a year in which they visited him twice at his base just outside Kandahar. “It was a place near the airport that they had captured from the Russians,” Ghanem says. “He was very happy to receive us. He was showing us around every day we were there. He killed an animal and we had a feast, and he invited everyone.”

Ghanem begins to relax, and talks about her childhood in the coastal Syrian city of Latakia, where she grew up in a family of Alawites, an offshoot of Shia Islam. Syrian cuisine is superior to Saudi, she says, and so is the weather by the Mediterranean, where the warm, wet summer air was a stark contrast to the acetylene heat of Jeddah in June. Ghanem moved to Saudi Arabia in the mid-1950s, and Osama was born in Riyadh in 1957. She divorced his father three years later, and married al-Attas, then an administrator in the fledgling Bin Laden empire, in the early 1960s. Osama’s father went on to have 54 children with at least 11 wives.

When Ghanem leaves to rest in a nearby room, Osama’s half brothers continue the conversation. It’s important, they say, to remember that a mother is rarely an objective witness. “It has been 17 years now since 9/11, and she remains in denial about Osama,” Ahmad says. “She loved him so much and refuses to blame him. Instead, she blames those around him. She only knows the good boy side, the side we all saw. She never got to know the jihadist side.”

“I was shocked, stunned,” he says now of the early reports from New York. “It was a very strange feeling. We knew from the beginning that it was Osama, within the first 48 hours. From the youngest to the eldest, we all felt ashamed of him. We knew all of us were going to face horrible consequences. Our family abroad all came back to Saudi.” They had been scattered across Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and Europe. “In Saudi, there was a travel ban. They tried as much as they could to maintain control over the family.” The family say they were all questioned by the authorities and, for a time, prevented from leaving the country. Nearly two decades on, the Bin Ladens can move relatively freely within and outside the kingdom.

Osama, age 14, in Oxford

Osama bin Laden’s formative years in Jeddah came in the relatively freewheeling 1970s, before the Iranian Revolution of 1979, which aimed to export Shia zeal into the Sunni Arab world. From then on, Saudi’s rulers enforced a rigid interpretation of Sunni Islam, one that had been widely practised across the Arabian peninsula since the 18th century, the era of cleric Muhammed ibn Abdul Wahhab. In 1744, Abdul Wahhab had made a pact with the then ruler Mohammed bin Saud, allowing his family to run affairs of state while hardlihe clerics defined the national character.

The modern day kingdom, proclaimed in 1932, left both sides, the clerics and the rulers too powerful to take the other on, locking the state and its citizens into a society defined by archconservative views: the strict segregation of non-related men and women; uncompromising gender roles; an intolerance of other faiths; and an unfailing adherence to doctrinal teachings, all rubber-stamped by the House of Saud.

Many believe this alliance directly contributed to the rise of global terrorism. Al-Qaida worldview and that of its offshoot, Islamic State (Isis) were largely shaped by Wahhabi scriptures; and Saudi clerics were widely accused of encouraging a jihadist movement that grew throughout the 1990s, with Osama bin Laden at its centre.

In 2018, Saudi’s new leadership wants to draw a line under this era and introduce what bin Salman calls “moderate Islam”. This he sees as essential to the survival of a state where a large, restless and often disaffected young population has, for nearly four decades, had little access to entertainment, a social life or individual freedoms. Saudi’s new rulers believe such rigid societal norms, enforced by clerics, could prove fodder for extremists who tap into such feelings of frustration.

Reform is beginning to creep through many aspects of Saudi society; among the most visible was June’s lifting of the ban on women drivers. There have been changes to the labour markets and a bloated public sector; cinemas have opened, and an anti-corruption drive launched across the private sector and some quarters of government. The government also claims to have stopped all funding to Wahhabi institutions outside the kingdom, which had been supported with missionary zeal for nearly four decades.

Such radical shock therapy is slowly being absorbed across the country, where communities conditioned to decades of uncompromising doctrine don’t always know what to make of it. Contradictions abound: some officials and institutions eschew conservatism, while others wholeheartedly embrace it. Meanwhile, political freedoms remain off-limits; power has become more centralised and dissent is routinely crushed.

Bin Laden’s legacy remains one of the kingdom’s most pressing issues. I meet Prince Turki al-Faisal, who was the head of Saudi intelligence for 24 years, between 1977 and 1 September 2001 (10 days before the 9/ 11 attacks), at his villa in Jeddah. An erudite man now in his mid-70s, Turki wears green cufflinks bearing the Saudi flag on the sleeves of his thobe. “There are two Osama bin Ladens,” he tells me. “One before the end of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, and one after it. Before, he was very much an idealistic mujahid. He was not a fighter. By his own admission, he fainted during a battle, and when he woke up, the Soviet assault on his position had been defeated.”

As Bin Laden moved from Afghanistan to Sudan, and as his links to Saudi Arabia soured, it was Turki who spoke with him on behalf of the kingdom. In the wake of 9/ 1 1, these direct dealings came under intense scrutiny. Then and 17 years later relatives of some of the 2,976 killed and more than 6,000 wounded in New York and Washington DC refuse to believe that a country that had exported such an archconservative form of the faith could have nothing to do with the consequences.

Certainly, Bin Laden travelled to Afghanistan with the knowledge and backing of the Saudi state, which opposed the Soviet occupation; along with America, the Saudis armed and supported those groups who fought it. The young mujahid had taken a small part of the family fortune with him, which he used to buy influence. When he returned to Jeddah, emboldened by battle and the Soviet defeat, he was a different man, Turki says. “He developed a more political attitude from 1990. He wanted to evict the communists and South Yemeni Marxists from Yemen. I received him, and told him it was better that he did not get involved. The mosques of Jeddah were using the Afghan example.” By this, Turki means the narrowly defined reading of the faith espoused by the Taliban. “He was inciting them, Saudi worshippers. He was told to stop.”

“He had a poker face,” Turki continues. “He never grimaced, or smiled. In 1992, 1993, there was a huge meeting in Peshawar organised by Nawaz Sharif’s government.” Bin Laden had by this point been given refuge by Afghan tribal leaders. “There was a call for Muslim solidarity, to coerce those leaders of the Muslim world to stop going at each other’s throats. I also saw him there. Our eyes met, but we didn’t talk. He didn’t go back to the kingdom. He went to Sudan, where he built a honey business and financed a road.”

Bin Laden’s advocacy increased in exile. “He used to fax statements to everybody. He was very critical. There were efforts by the family to dissuade him, emissaries and such but they were unsuccessful. It was probably his feeling that he was not taken seriously by the government.”

By 1996, Bin Laden was back in Afghanistan. Turki says the kingdom knew it had a problem and wanted him returned. He flew to Kandahar to meet with the then head of the Taliban, Mullah Omar. “He said, ‘I am not averse to handing him over, but he was very helpful to the Afghan people.’ He said Bin Laden was granted refuge according to Islamic dictates.” Two years later, in September 1998, Turki flew again to Afghanistan, this time to be robustly rebuffed. “At that meeting, he was a changed man,” he says of Omar. “Much more reserved, sweating profusely. Instead of taking a reasonable tone, he said, ‘How can you persecute this worthy man who dedicated his life to helping Muslims?”’ Turki says he warned Omar that what he was doing would harm the people of Afghanistan, and left.

Taliban leader, Mullah Omar

The family visit to Kandahar took place the following year, and came after a US missile strike on one of Bin Laden’s compounds, a response to al-Qaida attacks on US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya. It seems an entourage of immediate family had little trouble finding their man, where the Saudi and western intelligence networks could not.

According to officials in Riyadh, London and Washington DC, Bin Laden had by then become the world’s number one counterterrorism target, a man who was bent on using Saudi citizens to drive a wedge between eastern and western civilisations. “There is no doubt that he deliberately chose Saudi citizens for the 9/11 plot,” a British intelligence officer tells me. “He was convinced that was going to turn the west against his home country. He did indeed succeed in inciting a war, but not the one he expected.”

Turki claims that in the months before 9/11, his intelligence agency knew that something troubling was being planned. “In the summer of 2001, I took one of the warnings about something spectacular about to happen to the Americans, British, French and Arabs. We didn’t know where, but we knew that something was being brewed.”

Bin Laden remains a popular figure in some parts of the country, lauded by those who believe he did God’s work. The depth of support, however, is difficult to gauge. What remains of his immediate family, meanwhile, has been allowed back into the kingdom: at least two of Osama’s wives (one of whom was with him in Abbottabad when he was killed by US special forces) and their children now live in Jeddah.

“We had a very good relationship with Mohammed bin Nayef, the former crown prince,” Osama’s half-brother Ahmad tells me as a maid sets the nearby dinner table. “He let the wives and children return.” But while they have freedom of movement inside the city, they cannot leave the kingdom.

Osama’s mother rejoins the conversation. “I speak to his harem most weeks,” she says. “They live nearby.”

Osama’s half-sister, and the two men’s sister, Fatima al-Attas, was not at our meeting. From her home in Paris, she later emailed to say she strongly objected to her mother being interviewed, asking that it be rearranged through her. Despite the blessing of her brothers and stepfather, she felt her mother had been pressured into talking. Ghanem, however, insisted she was happy to talk and could have talked longer. It is, perhaps, a sign of the extended family’s complicated status in the kingdom that such tensions exist.

I ask the family about Bin Laden’s youngest son, 29-year-old Hamza, who is thought to be in Afghanistan. Last year, he was officially designated a “global terrorist” by the US and appears to have taken up the mantle of his father, under the auspices of al-Qaida’s new leader, and Osama’s former deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

His uncles shake their heads. “We thought everyone was over this,” Hassan says. “Then the next thing I knew, Hamza was saying, ‘I am going to avenge my father.’ I don’t want to go through that again. If Hamza was in front of me now, I would tell him, ‘God guide you. Think twice about what you are doing. Don’t retake the steps of your father. You are entering horrible parts of your soul.’”

Hamza bin Laden’s continued rise may well cloud the family’s attempts to shake off their past. It may also hinder the crown prince’s efforts to shape a new era in which Bin Laden is cast as a generational aberration, and in which the hardline doctrines once sanctioned by the kingdom no longer offer legitimacy to extremism. While change has been attempted in Saudi Arabia before, it has been nowhere near as extensive as the current reforms. How hard Mohammed bin Salman can push against a society indoctrinated in such an uncompromising worldview remains an open question.

Saudia Arabia’s allies are optimistic, but offer a note of caution. The British intelligence officer I spoke to told me, “If Salman doesn’t break through, there will be many more Osamas. And I’m not sure they’ll be able to shake the curse.”

Give People Money. How a Universal Basic Income would end poverty, revolutionise work, and remake the world – Annie Lowrey.

A UBI is an ethos as much as it is a technocratic policy proposal. It contains within it the principles of universality, unconditionality, inclusion, and simplicity, and it insists that every person is deserving of participation in the economy, freedom of choice, and a life without deprivation. Our governments can and should choose to provide those things.

Surely just giving people money couldn’t work. Or could it?

Imagine if every month the government deposited £1000 in your bank account, with no strings attached and nothing expected in return. It sounds crazy, but Universal Basic Income (UBI) has become one of the most influential policy ideas of our time, backed by thinkers on both the left and the right. The founder of Facebook, Obama’s chief economist, governments from Canada to Finland are all seriously debating some form of UBI.

In this sparkling and provocative book, economics writer Annie Lowrey looks at the global UBI movement. She travels to Kenya to see how UBI is lifting the poorest people on earth out of destitution, India to see how inefficient government programs are failing the poor, South Korea to interrogate UBI’s intellectual pedigree, and Silicon Valley to meet the tech titans financing UBI pilots in expectation of a world with advanced artificial intelligence and little need for human labour. She also examines the challenges the movement faces: contradictory aims, uncomfortable costs, and most powerfully, the entrenched belief that no one should get something for nothing.

The UBI movement is not just an economic policy, it also calls into question our deepest intuitions about what we owe each other and what activities we should reward and value as a society.

Annie Lowrey is a contributing editor for The Atlantic, where she covers economic policy. She is a frequent guest on CNN, MSNBC, and NPR. She is a former writer for the New York Times, the New York Times Magazine, and Slate, among other publications.

Wages for Breathing

ONE OPPRESSIVELY HOT and Muggy day in July, I stood at a military installation at the top of a mountain called Dorasan, overlooking the demilitarized zone between South Korea and North Korea. The central building was painted in camouflage and emblazoned with the hopeful phrase “End of Separation, Beginning of Unification.” On one side was a large, open observation deck with a number of telescopes aimed toward the Kaesong industrial area, a special pocket between the two countries where, up until recently, communist workers from the North would come and toil for capitalist companies from the South, earning $90 million in wages a year. A small gift shop sold soju liquor made by Northern workers and chocolate-covered soybeans grown in the demilitarized zone itself. (Don’t like them? Mail them back for a refund, the package said.)

On the other side was a theater whose seats faced not a movie screen but windows looking out toward North Korea. In front, there was a labeled diorama. Here is a flag. Here is a factory. Here is a juche-inspiring statue of Kim ll Sung. See it there? Can you make out his face, his hands? Chinese tourists pointed between the diorama and the landscape, viewed through the summer haze.

Across the four-kilometer-wide demilitarized zone, the North Koreans were blasting propaganda music so loudly that I could hear not just the tunes but the words. I asked my tour guide, Soo-jin, what the song said. “The usual,” she responded. “Stuff about how South Koreans are the tools of the Americans and the North Koreans will come to liberate us from our capitalist slavery.” Looking at the denuded landscape before us, this bit of pomposity seemed impossibly sad, as did the incomplete tunnel from North to South scratched out beneath us, as did the little Potemkin village the North Koreans had set up in sight of the observation deck. It was supposedly home to two hundred families, who Pyongyang insisted were working a collective farm, using a child care center, schools, a hospital. Yet Seoul had determined that nobody had ever lived there, and the buildings were empty shells. Comrades would come turn the lights on and off to give the impression of activity. The North Koreans called it “peace village”; Soo-jin called it “propaganda village.”

A few members of the group I was traveling with, including myself, teared up at the stark difference between what was in front of us and what was behind. There is perhaps no place on earth that better represents the profound life-and-death power of our choices when it comes to government policy. Less than a lifetime ago, the two countries were one, their people a polity, their economies a single fabric. But the Cold War’s ideological and political rivalry between capitalism and communism had ripped them apart, dividing families and scarring both nations. Soo-jin talked openly about the separation of North Korea from the South as “our national tragedy.”

The Republic of Korea, the South, rocketed from third-world to first-world status, becoming one of only a handful of countries to do so in the postwar era. In 1960, about fifteen years after the division of the peninsula, its people were about as wealthy as those in the Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone. In 2016, they were closer income-wise to those in Japan, its former colonial occupier, and a brutal one. Citigroup now expects South Korea to be among the most prosperous countries on earth by 2040, richer even than the United States by some measures.

Yet the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the North, has faltered and failed, particularly since the 1990s. It is a famine-scarred pariah state dominated by governmental graft and military buildup. Rare is it for a country to suffer such a miserable growth pattern without also suffering from the curse of natural disasters or the horrors of war. As of a few years ago, an estimated 40 percent of the population was living in extreme poverty,‘ more than double the share of people in Sudan. Were war to befall the country, that proportion would inevitably rise.

Even from the remove of the observation deck, enveloped in steam, hemmed in by barbed wire, patrolled by passive young men with assault rifles, the difference was obvious. You could see it. I could see it. The South Korean side of the border was lush with forest and riven with well built highways. Everywhere, there were power lines, trains, docks, high-rise buildings. An hour south sat Seoul, as cosmopolitan and culturally rich a city as Paris, with far better infrastructure than New York or Los Angeles. But the North Korean side of the border was stripped of trees. People had perhaps cut them down for firewood and basic building supplies, Soo-jin told me. The roads were empty and plain, the buildings low and smalI. So were the people: North Koreans are now measurably shorter than their South Korean relatives, in part due to the stunting effects of malnutrition.

South Korea and North Korea demonstrated, so powerfully demonstrated, that what we often think of as economic circumstance is largely a product of policy. The way things are is really the way we choose for them to be. There is always a counterfactual. Perhaps that counterfactual is not as stark as it is at the demilitarized zone. But it is always there.

Imagine that a check showed up in your mailbox or your bank account every month.

The money would be enough to live on, but just barely. It might cover a room in a shared apartment, food, and bus fare. It would save you from destitution if you had just gotten out of prison, needed to leave an abusive partner, or could not find work. But it would not be enough to live particularly well on. Let’s say that you could do anything you wanted with the money. It would come with no strings attached. You could use it to pay your bills. You could use it to go to college, or save it up for a down payment on a house. You could spend it on cigarettes and booze, or finance a life spent playing Candy Crush in your mom’s basement and noodling around on the Internet. Or you could use it to quit your job and make art, devote yourself to charitable works, or care for a sick child. Let’s also say that you did not have to do anything to get the money. It would just show up every month, month after month, for as long as you lived. You would not have to be a specific age, have a child, own a home, or maintain a clean criminal record to get it. You just would, as would every other person in your community.

This simple, radical, and elegant proposal is called a universal basic income, or UBI. It is universal, in the sense that every resident of a given community or country receives it. It is basic, in that it is just enough to live on and not more. And it is income.

The idea is a very old one, with its roots in Tudor England and the writings of Thomas Paine, a curious piece of intellectual flotsam that has washed ashore again and again over the last half millennium, often coming in with the tides of economic revolution. In the past few years, with the middle class being squeezed, trust in government eroding, technological change hastening, the economy getting Uberized, and a growing body of research on the power of cash as an antipoverty measure being produced, it has vaulted to a surprising prominence, even pitching from airy hypothetical to near-reality in some places. Mark Zuckerberg, Hillary Clinton, the Black Lives Matter movement, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, these are just a few of the policy proposal’s flirts, converts, and supporters. UBI pilots are starting or ongoing in Germany, the Netherlands, Finland, Canada, and Kenya, with India contemplating one as well. Some politicians are trying to get it adopted in California, and it has already been the subject of a Swiss referendum, where its reception exceeded activists’ expectations despite its defeat.

Why undertake such a drastic policy change, one that would fundamentally alter the social contract, the safety net, and the nature of work? UBI’s strange bedfellows put forward a dizzying kaleidoscope of arguments, drawing on everything from feminist theory to environmental policy to political philosophy to studies of work incentives to sociological work on racism.

Perhaps the most prominent argument for a UBI has to do with technological unemployment, the prospect that robots will soon take all of our jobs. Economists at Oxford University estimate that about half of American jobs, including millions and millions of white-collar ones, are susceptible to imminent elimination due to technological advances. Analysts are warning that Armageddon is coming for truck drivers, warehouse box packers, pharmacists, accountants, legal assistants, cashiers, translators, medical diagnosticians, stockbrokers, home appraisers, I could go on.

In a world with far less demand for human work, a UBI would be necessary to keep the masses afloat, the argument goes. “I’m not saying I know the future, and that this is exactly what’s going to happen,” Andy Stern, the former president of the two-million member Service Employees International Union and a UBI booster, told me. But if “a tsunami is coming, maybe someone should figure out if we have some storm shutters around.”

A second common line of reasoning is less speculative, more rooted in the problems of the present rather than the problems of tomorrow. It emphasizes UBl’s promise at ameliorating the yawning inequality and grating wage stagnation that the United States and other high-income countries are already facing. The middle class is shrinking. Economic growth is aiding the brokerage accounts of the rich but not the wallets of the working classes. A UBl would act as a straightforward income support for families outside of the top 20 percent, its proponents argue. It would also radically improve the bargaining power of workers, forcing employers to increase wages, add benefits, and improve conditions to retain their talent. Why take a crummy job for $7.25 an hour when you have a guaranteed $1,000 a month to fall back on? “In a time of immense wealth, no one should live in poverty, nor should the middle class be consigned to a future of permanent stagnation or anxiety,” argues the Economic Security Project, a new UBI think tank and advocacy group.

In addition, a UBI could be a powerful tool to eliminate deprivation, both around the world and in the United States. About 41 million Americans were living below the poverty line as of 2016. A $1,000-a-month grant would push many of them above it, and would ensure that no abusive partner, bout of sickness, natural disaster, or sudden job loss means destitution in the richest civilization that the planet has ever known. This case is yet stronger in lower income countries. Numerous governments have started providing cash transfers, if not universal and unconditional ones, to reduce their poverty rates, and some policymakers and political parties, pleased with the results, are toying with providing a true UBI. In Kenya, a U.S.-based charity called GiveDirectly is sending thousands of adults about $20 a month for more than a decade to demonstrate how a UBl could end deprivation, cheaply and at scale. “We could end extreme poverty right now, if we wanted to,” Michael Faye, GiveDirectly’s cofounder, told me.

A UBI would end poverty not just effectively, but also efficiently, some of its libertarian-leaning boosters argue. Replacing the current American welfare state with a UBI would eliminate huge swaths of the government’s bureaucracy and reduce state interference in its citizens’ lives: Hello UBI, good-bye to the Departments of Health and Human Services and Housing and Urban Development, the Social Security Administration, a whole lot of state and local offices, and much of the Department of Agriculture. “Just giving people money is a very natural solution,” says Charles Murray of the American Enterprise Institute, a right-of center think tank. “It’s a way of cutting the Gordian knot. You don’t need to be drafting ever more sophisticated solutions to our problems.”

Protecting against a robot apocalypse, providing workers with bargaining power, jump-starting the middle class, ending poverty, and reducing the complexity of government: It sounds pretty good, right? But a UBI means that the government would send every citizen a check every month, eternally and regardless of circumstance. That inevitably raises any number of questions about fairness, government spending, and the nature of work.

When I first heard the idea, I worried about UBl’s impact on jobs. A $1,000 check arriving every month might spur millions of workers to drop out of the labor force, leaving the United States relying on a smaller and smaller pool of workers for taxable income to be distributed to a bigger and bigger pool of people not participating in paid labor. This seems a particularly prevalent concern given how many men have dropped out of the labor force of late, pushed by stagnant wages and pulled, perhaps, by the low-cost marvels of gaming and streaming. With a UBI, the country would lose the ingenuity and productivity of a large share of its greatest asset: its people. More than that, a UBI implemented to fight technological unemployment might mean giving up on American workers, paying them off rather than figuring out how to integrate them into a vibrant, techfueled economy. Economists of all political persuasions have voiced similar concerns.

And a UBI would do all of this at extraordinary expense. Let’s say that we wanted to give every American $1,000 a month in cash. Back-of-the-envelope math suggests that this policy would cost roughly $3.9 trillion a year. Adding that kind of spending on top of everything else the government already funds would mean that total federal outlays would more than double, arguably requiring taxes to double as well. That might slow the economy down, and cause rich families and big corporations to flee offshore. Even if the government replaced Social Security and many of its other antipoverty programs with a UBI, its spending would still have to increase by a number in the hundreds of billions, each and every year.

Stepping back even further: Is a UBI really the best use of scarce resources? Does it make any sense to bump up taxes in order to give people like Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates $1,000 a month, along with all those working-class families, retirees, children, unemployed individuals, and so on? Would it not be more efficient to tax rich people and direct money to poor people through means-testing, as programs like Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as SNAP or food stamps, already do? Even in the socialist Nordic countries, state support is generally contingent on circumstance. Plus, many lower-income and middle-income families already receive far more than $1,000 a month per person from the government, in the United States and in other countries. If a UBI wiped out programs like food stamps and housing vouchers, is there any guarantee that a basic income would be more fair and effective than the current system?

There are more philosophical objections to a UBI too. In no country or community on earth do individuals automatically get a pension as a birthright, with the exception of some princes, princesses, and residents of petrostates like Alaska. Why should we give people money with no strings attached? Why not ask for community service in return, or require that people at least try to work? Isn’t America predicated on the idea of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, not on coasting by on a handout?

As a reporter covering the economy and economic policy in Washington, I heard all of these arguments for and objections against, watching as an obscure, never before tried idea became a global phenomenon. Not once in my career had I seen a bit of social-policy arcana go viral. Search interest in UBI more than doubled between 2011 and 2016, according to Google data.“ UBl barely got any mention in news stories as of the mid 2000s, but since then the growth has been exponential. It came up in books, at conferences, in meetings with politicians, in discussions with progressives and libertarians, around the dinner table.

I covered it as it happened. I wrote about that failed Swiss referendum, and about a Canadian basic income experiment that has provided evidence for the contemporary debate. I talked with Silicon Valley investors terrified by the prospect of a jobless future and rode in a driverless car, wondering how long it would be before artificial intelligence started to threaten my job. I chatted with members of Congress on both sides of the aisle about the failing middle class and whether the country needed a new, big redistributive policy to strengthen it. I had beers with European intellectuals enthralled with the idea. I talked with Hill aides convinced that a UBI would be a part of a 2020 presidential platform. I spoke with advocates certain that in a decade, millions of people around the world would have a monthly check to fall back on, or else would make up a miserable new precariat. I heard from philosophers convinced that our understanding of work, our social contract, and the underpinnings of our economy were about to undergo an epochal transformation.

The more I learned about UBI, the more obsessed I became with it, because it raised such interesting questions about our economy and our politics. Could libertarians in the United States really want the same thing as Indian economists as the Black Lives Matter protesters as Silicon Valley tech pooh-bahs? Could one policy be right for both Kenyan villagers living on 60 cents a day and the citizens of Switzerland’s richest canton? Was UBI a magic bullet, or a policy hammer in search of a nail? My questions were also philosophical. Should we compensate uncompensated care workers? Why do we tolerate child poverty, given how rich the United States is? Is our safety net racist? What would a robot jobs apocalypse actually look like?

I set out to write this book less to describe a burgeoning international policy movement or to advocate for an idea, than to answer those questions for myself. The research for it brought me to villages in remote Kenya, to a wedding held amid monsoon rains in one of the poorest states in India, to homeless shelters, to senators’ offices. I interviewed economists, politicians, subsistence farmers, and philosophers. I traveled to a UBI conference in Korea to meet many of the idea’s leading proponents and deepest thinkers, and stood with them at the DMZ contemplating the terrifying, heartening, and profound effects of our policy choices.

What I came to believe is this:

A UBI is an ethos as much as it is a technocratic policy proposal. It contains within it the principles of universality, unconditionality, inclusion, and simplicity, and it insists that every person is deserving of participation in the economy, freedom of choice, and a life without deprivation. Our governments can and should choose to provide those things, whether through a $1,000-a-month stipend or not.

This book has three parts. First, we’ll look at the issues surrounding UBI and work, then UBI and poverty, and finally UBI and social inclusion. At the end, we’ll explore the promise, potential, and design of universal cash programs. I hope that you will come to see, as I have, that there is much to be gained from contemplating this complicated, transformative, and mind-bending policy.

Chapter One

The Ghost Trucks

THE NORTH AMERICAN International auto show is a gleaming, roaring affair. Once a year, in bleakest January, carmakers head to the Motor City to show off their newest models, technologies, and concept vehicles to industry figures, the press, and the public. Each automaker takes its corner of the dark, carpeted cavern of the Cobo Center and turns it into something resembling a game-show set: spotlights, catwalks, light displays, scantily clad women, and vehicle after vehicle, many rotating on giant lazy Susans. I spent hours at a recent show, ducking in and out of new models and talking with auto executives and sales representatives. I sat in an SUV as sleek as a shark, the buttons and gears and dials on its dash-board replaced with a virtual cockpit straight out of science fiction. A race car so aerodynamic and low that I had to crouch to get in it. And driverless car after driverless car after driverless car.

The displays ranged in degrees of technological spectacle from the cool to the oh-my-word. One massive Ford truck, for instance, offered a souped-up cruise control that would brake for pedestrians and take over stop-and-go driving in heavy traffic. “No need to keep ramming the pedals yourself,” a representative said as l gripped the oversize steering wheel.

Across the floor sat a Volkswagen concept car that looked like a hippie caravan for aliens. The minibus had no door latches, just sensors. There was a plug instead of a gas tank. On fully autonomous driving mode, the dash swallowed the steering wheel. A variety of lasers, sensors, radar, and cameras would then pilot the vehicle, and the driver and front-seat passenger could swing their seats around to the back, turning the bus into a snug, space-age living room. “The car of the future!” proclaimed Klaus Bischoff, the company’s head of design.

It was a phrase that I heard again and again in Detroit. We are developing the cars of the future. The cars of the future are coming. The cars of the future are here. The auto market, I came to understand, is rapidly moving from automated to autonomous to driverless. Many cars already offer numerous features to assist with driving, including fancy cruise controls, backup warnings, lanekeeping technology, emergency braking, automatic parking, and so on. Add in enough of those options, along with some advanced sensors and thousands of lines of code, and you end up with an autonomous car that can pilot itself from origin to destination. Soon enough, cars, trucks, and taxis might be able to do so without a driver in the vehicle at all.

This technology has gone from zero to sixty, forgive me, in only a decade and a half. Back in 2002, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, part of the Department of Defense and better known as DARPA, announced a “grand challenge,” an invitation for teams to build autonomous vehicles and race one another on a 142-mile desert course from Barstow, California, to Primm, Nevada. The winner would take home a cool million. At the marquee event, none of the competitors made it through the course, or anywhere close. But the promise of prize money and the publicity around the event spurred a wave of investment and innovation. “That first competition created a community of innovators, engineers, students, programmers, offroad racers, backyard mechanics, inventors, and dreamers who came together to make history by trying to solve a tough technical problem,” said Lt. Col. Scott Wadle of DARPA. “The fresh thinking they brought was the spark that has triggered major advances in the development of autonomous robotic ground vehicle technology in the years since.”

As these systems become more reliable, safer, and cheaper, and as government regulations and the insurance markets come to accommodate them, mere mortals will get to experience them. At the auto show, I watched John Krafcik, the chief executive of Waymo, Google’s self-driving spin-off, show off a fully autonomous Chrysler Pacifica minivan. “Our latest innovations have brought us closer to scaling our technology to potentially millions of people every day,” he said, describing how the cost of the threedimensional light-detection radar that helps guide the car has fallen 90 percent from its original $75,000 price tag in just a few years. BMW and Ford, among others, have announced that their autonomous offerings will go to market soon. “The amount of technology in cars has been growing exponentially,” said Sandy Lobenstein, a Toyota executive, speaking in Detroit‘s “The vehicle as we know it is transforming into a means of getting around that futurists have dreamed about for a long time.” Taxis without a taxi driver, trucks without a truck driver, cars you can tell where to go and then take a nap in: they are coming to our roads, and threatening millions and millions of jobs as they do.



Give People Money. How a Universal Basic Income would end poverty, revolutionise work, and remake the world

by Annie Lowrey

get it at Amazon.com

Modern Monetary Theory. The government is not a household and imports are still a benefit – Bill Mitchell.

A government is not a household, is a core Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) proposition because it separates the currency issuer from the currency user and allows us to appreciate the constraints that each has on its spending capacities.

Another core MMT proposition is that imports are a benefit and exports are a cost.

In the case of a household, there are both real and financial resource constraints which limit its spending and necessitate strategies being put in place to facilitate that spending (getting income, running down savings, borrowing, selling assets).

In the case of a currency issuing government the only spending constraints beyond the political are the available real resources that are for sale in that currency.

Beyond that, the government sector thus assumes broad responsibilities as the currency issuer, which are not necessarily borne by individual consumers. Its objectives are different. Which brings trade into the picture.

Another core MMT proposition is that imports are a benefit and exports are a cost.

So why would I support Jeremy Corbyn’s Build it in Britain policy, which is really an import competing strategy? Simple, the government is not a household.

Household consumers are users of the currency and aim to use their disposable incomes to create well-being, primarily for themselves and their families.

We exhibit generosity by extending our spending capacities to others when we give gifts.

But our aims are to get the best deal we can in our transactions. That means we like goods and services that satisfy our quality standards at the best price possible.

Which means that we will be somewhat indifferent to geography. If local suppliers are expensive and imported goods and services are cheaper, then as long as quality considerations are broadly met, we will purchase the imported commodity and be better off in a material sense.

If other nations are willing to send more goods and services to us than they get back in return then the real terms of trade are in our favour.

Exports require we give up our use of those real resources while imports mean we deprive other nations of the use of their resources.

There are nuances obviously.

A nation with lots of minerals (Australia) may not feel it is too much of a ‘cost’ to send boatloads of primary commodities to Japan or China.

We also individually might ascribe to broader goals in our purchasing decisions, although the evidence for this is weak.

For example, some of us believe that imports are only a beneflt if they come from nations that treat their workers reasonably (no sweat shops, killing trade unionists etc) and do not ravage the natural environment in the process of producing the goods.

I would guess those concerns do not dominate our decision making generally because if they did China would not have huge export surpluses.

But there are nuances.

However, a government is not a household. It has a wider remit (objectives) than a household and must consider a broad range of concerns when it uses its currency issuing capacity to shift real resources (as goods and services) from the non-government sector to the government sector to fulfill its elected mandate.

In that sense, imports remain a benefit but the broader concerns make the net decision more complex than it is for the nongovernment sector.

The government must consider regional disparities. When a household is making a decision to purchase a good or service, what is happening elsewhere in the nation might not rank very high in the decision.

The government must consider how best to maintain full employment. A household is really only concerned with their own employment although that doesn’t preclude us being generally concerned with high unemployment rates.

But ’buy local’ campaigns typically do not work when they try to steer household consumption expenditure.

The government can always maintain full employment through its fiscal spending decisions. We know that because it can always purchase the services of all idle labour that wants to work and receive payment in the currency of issue.

So from that starting point, there is no question that mass unemployment is a policy choice, not some uncontrollable outcome of a ’market‘.

In that context, the challenge for government is to work out how to frame the spending capacity to get the best employment outcomes:

* Direct public employment, that is obvious.

* Subsidy of local non-government firms, that is, operate by lowering the unit costs for firms to render them profitable when they otherwise would not be.

* ‘Build it in Britain’ that is, use procurement policies to sustain sales for local firms rather than subsidise their costs.

None of these full employment strategies negate the insight that imports are a benefit to a nation.

But the government has to consider broader concerns than just getting a good or service at the cheapest ’market’ price.

There are more considerations, but that is how we can understand this issue.

The End of Alchemy: Money, Banking and the Future of the Global Economy – Mervyn King.

If the economy had grown after the global financial crisis at the same rate as the number of books written about it, then we would have been back at full employment some while ago.

Modern economics has encouraged ways of thinking that make crises more probable. Economists have brought the problem upon themselves by pretending that they can forecast. No one can easily predict an unknowable future, and economists are no exception.

The fragility of our financial system stems directly from the fact that banks are the main source of money creation. Banks are man made institutions, important sources of innovation, prosperity and material progress, but also of greed, corruption and crises. For better or worse, they materially affect human welfare.

Unless we go back to the underlying causes we will never understand what happened and will be unable to prevent a repetition and help our economies truly recover.

The financial crisis of 2007-9 was merely the latest manifestation of our collective failure to manage the relationship between finance, the structure of money and banking, and a capitalist system.”

The former governor of the Bank of England on reforming global finance.

Mervyn King was governor of the Bank of England in 2003-13. In “The End of Alchemy” there is no gossip and few revelations. Instead Lord King uses his experience of the crisis as a platform from which to present economic ideas to non-specialists.

He does a good job of putting complex concepts into plain English. The discussion of the evolution of money, from Roman times to 19th-century America to today, is a useful introduction for those not quite sure what currency really is.

He explains why economies need central banks: at best, they are independent managers of the money supply and rein in the banking system. Central bankers like giving the impression that they have played such roles since time immemorial, but as Lord King points out the reality is otherwise. The Fed was created only in 1913; believe it or not, until 1994 it would not reveal to the public its interest rate decisions until weeks after the event. Even the Bank of England, founded in 1694, got the exclusive right to print banknotes, in England and Wales, only in 1844.

At times, Lord King can be refreshingly frank. He is no fan of austerity policies, saying that they have imposed “enormous costs on citizens throughout Europe”. He also reserves plenty of criticism for the economics profession. Since forecasting is so hit and miss, he thinks, the practice of giving prizes to the best forecasters “makes as much sense as it would to award the Fields Medal in mathematics to the winner of the National Lottery”.

The problem leading up to the global financial crisis, as Lord King sees it, is that commercial banks had little incentive to hold large quantities of safe, liquid assets. They knew that in a panic, the central bank would provide liquidity, no matter the quality of their balance sheets; in response they loaded up on risky investments.

The Economist

‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity …’ Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

The End of Alchemy, Mervyn King

The past twenty years in the modern world were indeed the best of times and the worst of times. It was a tale of two epochs in the first growth and stability, followed in the second by the worst banking crisis the industrialised world has ever witnessed. Within the space of little more than a year, between August 2007 and October 2008, what had been viewed as the age of wisdom was now seen as the age of foolishness, and belief turned into incredulity. The largest banks in the biggest financial centres in the advanced world failed, triggering a worldwide collapse of confidence and bringing about the deepest recession since the 1930s.

How did this happen? Was it a failure of individuals, institutions or ideas? The events of 2007-8 have spawned an outpouring of articles and books, as well as plays and films, about the crisis. If the economy had grown after the crisis at the same rate as the number of books written about it, then we would have been back at full employment some while ago.

Most such accounts like the media coverage and the public debate at the time focus on the symptoms and not the underlying causes. After all, those events, vivid though they remain in the memories of both participants and spectators, comprised only the latest in a long series of financial crises since our present system of money and banking became the cornerstone of modern capitalism after the Industrial Revolution in the eighteenth century. The growth of indebtedness, the failure of banks, the recession that followed, were all signs of much deeper problems in our financial and economic system.

Unless we go back to the underlying causes we will never understand what happened and will be unable to prevent a repetition and help our economies truly recover. This book looks at the big questions raised by the depressing regularity of crises in our system of money and banking. Why do they occur? Why are they so costly in terms of lost jobs and production? And what can we do to prevent them? It also examines new ideas that suggest answers.

In the spring of 2011, I was in Beijing to meet a senior Chinese central banker. Over dinner in the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse, where we had earlier played tennis, we talked about the lessons from history for the challenges we faced, the most important of which was how to resuscitate the world economy after the collapse of the western banking system in 2008. Bearing in mind the apocryphal answer of Premier Chou Enlai to the question of what significance one should attach to the French Revolution (it was ‘too soon to tell’), I asked my Chinese colleague what importance he now attached to the Industrial Revolution in Britain in the second half of the eighteenth century.

He thought hard. Then he replied: ‘We in China have learned a great deal from the West about how competition and a market economy support industrialisation and create higher living standards. We want to emulate that.’ Then came the sting in the tail, as he continued: ‘But I don’t think you’ve quite got the hang of money and banking yet.’ His remark was the inspiration for this book.

Since the crisis, many have been tempted to play the game of deciding who was to blame for such a disastrous outcome. But blaming individuals is counterproductive, it leads you to think that if just a few, or indeed many, of those people were punished then we would never experience a crisis again. If only it were that simple. A generation of the brightest and best were lured into banking, and especially into trading, by the promise of immense financial rewards and by the intellectual challenge of the work that created such rich returns. They were badly misled. The crisis was a failure of a system, and the ideas that underpinned it, not of individual policy makers or bankers, incompetent and greedy though some of them undoubtedly were. There was a general misunderstanding of how the world economy worked. Given the size and political influence of the banking sector, is it too late to put the genie back in the bottle? No it is never too late to ask the right questions, and in this book I try to do so.

If we don’t blame the actors, then why not the playwright? Economists have been cast by many as the villain. An abstract and increasingly mathematical discipline, economics is seen as having failed to predict the crisis. This is rather like blaming science for the occasional occurrence of a natural disaster. Yet we would blame scientists if incorrect theories made disasters more likely or created a perception that they could never occur, and one of the arguments of this book is that economics has encouraged ways of thinking that made crises more probable. Economists have brought the problem upon themselves by pretending that they can forecast. No one can easily predict an unknowable future, and economists are no exception.

Despite the criticism, modern economics provides a distinctive and useful way of thinking about the world. But no subject can stand still, and economics must change, perhaps quite radically, as a result of the searing experience of the crisis. A theory adequate for today requires us to think for ourselves, standing on the shoulders of giants of the past, not kneeling in front of them.

Economies that are capable of sending men to the moon and producing goods and services of extraordinary complexity and innovation seem to struggle with the more mundane challenge of handling money and banking. The frequency, and certainly severity, of crises has, if anything, increased rather than decreased over time.

In the heat of the crisis in October 2008, nation states took over responsibility for all the obligations and debts of the global banking system. In terms of its balance sheet, the banking system had been virtually nationalised but without collective control over its operations. That government rescue cannot conveniently be forgotten. When push came to shove, the very sector that had espoused the merits of market discipline was allowed to carry on only by dint of taxpayer support. The creditworthiness of the state was put on the line, and in some cases, such as Iceland and Ireland, lost. God may have created the universe, but we mortals created paper money and risky banks. They are man made institutions, important sources of innovation, prosperity and material progress, but also of greed, corruption and crises. For better or worse, they materially affect human welfare.

For much of modern history, and for good reason, money and banking have been seen as the magical elements that liberated us from a stagnant feudal system and permitted the emergence of dynamic markets capable of making the long-term investments necessary to support a growing economy. The idea that paper money could replace intrinsically valuable gold and precious metals, and that banks could take secure short-term deposits and transform them into long-term risky investments, came into its own with the Industrial Revolution in the eighteenth century. It was both revolutionary and immensely seductive. It was in fact financial alchemy, the creation of extraordinary financial powers that defy reality and common sense. Pursuit of this monetary elixir has brought a series of economic disasters from hyperinflations to banking collapses.

Why have money and banking, the alchemists of a market economy, turned into its Achilles heel?

The purpose of this book is to answer that question. It sets out to explain why the economic failures of a modern capitalist economy stem from our system of money and banking, the consequences for the economy as a whole, and how we can end the alchemy. Our ideas about money and banking are just as much a product of our age as the way we conduct our politics and imagine our past.

The twentieth century experience of depression, hyperinflation and war changed both the world and the way economists thought about it. Before the Great Depression of the early 1930s, central banks and governments saw their role as stabilising the financial system and balancing the budget. After the Great Depression, attention turned to policies aimed at maintaining full employment. But post-war confidence that Keynesian ideas, the use of public spending to expand total demand in the economy, would prevent us from repeating the errors of the past was to prove touchingly naive. The use of expansionary policies during the 1960s, exacerbated by the Vietnam War, led to the Great Inflation of the 1970s, accompanied by slow growth and rising unemployment, the combination known as ‘stagflation’.

The direct consequence was that central banks were reborn as independent institutions committed to price stability. So successful was this that in the 1990s not only did inflation fall to levels unseen for a generation, but central banks and their governors were hailed for inaugurating an era of economic growth with low inflation, the Great Stability or Great Moderation. Politicians worshipped at the altar of finance, bringing gifts in the form of lax regulation and receiving support, and sometimes campaign contributions, in return. Then came the fall: the initial signs that some banks were losing access to markets for short-term borrowing in 2007, the collapse of the industrialised world’s banking system in 2008, the Great Recession that followed, and increasingly desperate attempts by policy-makers to engineer a recovery. Today the world economy remains in a depressed state. Enthusiasm for policy stimulus is back in fashion, and the wheel has turned full circle.

The recession is hurting people who were not responsible for our present predicament, and they are, naturally, angry. There is a need to channel that anger into a careful analysis of what went wrong and a determination to put things right. The economy is behaving in ways that we did not expect, and new ideas will be needed if we are to prevent a repetition of the Great Recession and restore prosperity.

Many accounts and memoirs of the crisis have already been published. Their titles are numerous, but they share the same invisible subtitle: ‘how I saved the world’. So although in the interests of transparency I should make clear that I was an actor in the drama, Governor of the Bank of England for ten years between 2003 and 2013, during both the Great Stability, the banking crisis itself, the Great Recession that followed, and the start of the recovery, this is not a memoir of the crisis with revelations about private conversations and behind the scenes clashes. Of course, those happened as in any walk of life. But who said what to whom and when can safely, and properly, be left to dispassionate and disinterested historians who can sift and weigh the evidence available to them after sufficient time has elapsed and all the relevant official and unofficial papers have been made available.

Instant memoirs, whether of politicians or officials, are usually partial and self-serving. I see little purpose in trying to set the record straight when any account that I gave would naturally also seem self-serving. My own record of events and the accompanying Bank papers will be made available to historians when the twenty-year rule permits their release.

This book is about economic ideas. My time at the Bank of England showed that ideas, for good or ill, do influence governments and their policies. The adoption of inflation targeting in the early 1990s and the granting of independence to the Bank of England in 1997 are prime examples. Economists brought intellectual rigour to economic policy and especially to central banking. But my experience at the Bank also revealed the inadequacies of the ‘models’, whether verbal descriptions or mathematical equations, used by economists to explain swings in total spending and production. In particular, such models say nothing about the importance of money and banks and the panoply of financial markets that feature prominently in newspapers and on our television screens.

Is there a fundamental weakness in the intellectual economic framework underpinning contemporary thinking?

An exploration of some of these basic issues does not require a technical exposition, and I have stayed away from one. Of course, economists use mathematical and statistical methods to understand a complex world, they would be remiss if they did not. Economics is an intellectual discipline that requires propositions to be not merely plausible but subject to the rigour of a logical proof. And yet there is no mathematics in this book. It is written in (I hope) plain English and draws on examples from real life. Although I would like my fellow economists to read the book in the hope that they will take forward some of the ideas presented here, it is aimed at the reader with no formal training in economics but an interest in the issues.

In the course of this book, I will explain the fundamental causes of the crisis and how the world economy lost its balance; how money emerged in earlier societies and the role it plays today; why the fragility of our financial system stems directly from the fact that banks are the main source of money creation; why central banks need to change the way they respond to crises; why politics and money go hand in hand; why the world will probably face another crisis unless nations pursue different policies; and, most important of all, how we can end the alchemy of our present system of money and banking.

By alchemy I mean the belief that all paper money can be turned into an intrinsically valuable commodity, such as gold, on demand and that money kept in banks can be taken out whenever depositors ask for it. The truth is that money, in all forms, depends on trust in its issuer. Confidence in paper money rests on the ability and willingness of governments not to abuse their power to print money. Bank deposits are backed by long-term risky loans that cannot quickly be converted into money. For centuries, alchemy has been the basis of our system of money and banking. As this book shows, we can end the alchemy without losing the enormous benefits that money and banking contribute to a capitalist economy.

Four concepts are used extensively in the book: disequilibrium, radical uncertainty, the prisoner’s dilemma and trust. These concepts will be familiar to many, although the context in which I use them may not. Their significance will become clear as the argument unfolds, but a brief definition and explanation may be helpful at the outset.

Disequilibrium is the absence of a state of balance between the forces acting on a system. As applied to economics, disequilibrium is a position that is unsustainable, meaning that at some point a large change in the pattern of spending and production will take place as the economy moves to a new equilibrium. The word accurately describes the evolution of the world economy since the fall of the Berlin Wall, which I discuss in Chapter 1.

Radical uncertainty refers to uncertainty so profound that it is impossible to represent the future in terms of a knowable and exhaustive list of outcomes to which we can attach probabilities. Economists conventionally assume that ‘rational’ people can construct such probabilities. But when businesses invest, they are not rolling dice with known and finite outcomes on the faces; rather they face a future in which the possibilities are both limitless and impossible to imagine. Almost all the things that define modern life, and which we now take for granted, such as cars, aeroplanes, computers and antibiotics, were once unimaginable. The essential challenge facing everyone living in a capitalist economy is the inability to conceive of what the future may hold. The failure to incorporate radical uncertainty into economic theories was one of the factors responsible for the misjudgements that led to the crisis.

The prisoner’s dilemma may be defined as the difficulty of achieving the best outcome when there are obstacles to cooperation. Imagine two prisoners who have been arrested and kept apart from each other. Both are offered the same deal: if they agree to incriminate the other they will receive a light sentence, but if they refuse to do so they will receive a severe sentence if the other incriminates them. If neither incriminates the other, then both are acquitted. Clearly, the best outcome is for both to remain silent. But if they cannot cooperate the choice is more difficult. The only way to guarantee the avoidance of a severe sentence is to incriminate the other. And if both do so, the outcome is that both receive a light sentence. But this non-cooperative outcome is inferior to the cooperative outcome. The difficulty of cooperating with each other creates a prisoner’s dilemma. Such problems are central to understanding how the economy behaves as a whole (the field known as macroeconomics) and to thinking through both how we got into the crisis and how we can now move towards a sustainable recovery. Many examples will appear in the following pages. Finding a resolution to the prisoner’s dilemma problem in a capitalist economy is central to understanding and improving our fortunes.

Trust is the ingredient that makes a market economy work. How could we drive, eat, or even buy and sell, unless we trusted other people? Everyday life would be impossible without trust: we give our credit card details to strangers and eat in restaurants that we have never visited before. Of course, trust is supplemented with regulation, fraud is a crime and there are controls of the conditions in restaurant kitchens but an economy works more efficiently with trust than without. Trust is part of the answer to the prisoner’s dilemma. It is central to the role of money and banks, and to the institutions that manage our economy. Long ago, Confucius emphasised the crucial role of trust in the authorities: ‘Three things are necessary for government: weapons, food and trust. If a ruler cannot hold on to all three, he should give up weapons first and food next. Trust should be guarded to the end: without trust we cannot stand.’

Those four ideas run through the book and help us to understand the origin of the alchemy of money and banking and how we can reduce or even eliminate that alchemy.

When I left the Bank of England in 2013, I decided to explore the flaws in both the theory and practice of money and banking, and how they relate to the economy as a whole. I was led deeper and deeper into basic questions about economics. I came to believe that fundamental changes are needed in the way we think about macroeconomics, as well as in the way central banks manage their economies.

A key role of a market economy is to link the present and the future, and to coordinate decisions about spending and production not only today but tomorrow and in the years thereafter. Families will save if the interest rate is high enough to overcome their natural impatience to spend today rather than tomorrow. Companies will invest in productive capital if the prospective rate of return exceeds the cost of attracting finance. And economic growth requires saving and investment to add to the stock of productive capital and so increase the potential output of the economy in the future. In a healthy growing economy all three rates, the interest rate on saving, the rate of return on investment, and the rate of growth are well above zero. Today, however, we are stuck with extraordinarily low interest rates, which discourage saving, the source of future demand and, if maintained indefinitely, will pull down rates of return on investment, diverting resources into unprofitable projects. Both effects will drag down future growth rates. We are already some way down that road. It seems that our market economy today is not providing an effective link between the present and the future.

I believe there are two reasons for this failure. First, there is an inherent problem in linking a known present with an unknowable future. Radical uncertainty presents a market economy with an impossible challenge how are we to create markets in goods and services that we cannot at present imagine? Money and banking are part of the response of a market economy to that challenge. Second, the conventional wisdom of economists about how governments and central banks should stabilise the economy gives insufficient weight to the importance of radical uncertainty in generating an occasional large disequilibrium. Crises do not come out of thin air but are the result of the unavoidable mistakes made by people struggling to cope with an unknowable future. Both issues have profound implications and will be explored at greater length in subsequent chapters.

Inevitably, my views reflect the two halves of my career. The first was as an academic, a student in Cambridge, England, and a Kennedy scholar at Harvard in the other Cambridge, followed by teaching positions on both sides of the Atlantic. I experienced at first hand the evolution of macroeconomics from literary exposition where propositions seemed plausible but never completely convincing, into a mathematical discipline where propositions were logically convincing but never completely plausible. Only during the crisis of 2007-9 did I look back and understand the nature of the tensions between the surviving disciples of John Maynard Keynes who taught me in the 1960s, primarily Richard Kahn and Joan Robinson, and the influx of mathematicians and scientists into the subject that fuelled the rapid expansion of university economics departments in the same period. The old school ‘Keynesians’ were mistaken in their view that all wisdom was to be found in the work of one great man, and as a result their influence waned. The new arrivals brought mathematical discipline to a subject that prided itself on its rigour. But the informal analysis of disequilibrium of economies, radical uncertainty, and trust as a solution to the prisoner’s dilemma was lost in the enthusiasm for the idea that rational individuals would lead the economy to an efficient equilibrium. It is time to take those concepts more seriously.

The second half of my career comprised twenty-two years at the Bank of England, the oldest continuously functioning central bank in the world, from 1991 to 2013, as Chief Economist, Deputy Governor and then Governor. That certainly gave me a chance to see how money could be managed. I learned, and argued publicly, that this is done best not by relying on gifted individuals to weave their magic, but by designing and building institutions that can be run by people who are merely professionally competent. Of course individuals matter and can make a difference, especially in a crisis. But the power of markets, the expression of hundreds of thousands of investors around the world is a match for any individual, central banker or politician, who fancies his ability to resist economic arithmetic. As one of President Clinton’s advisers remarked, ‘I used to think if there was reincarnation, I wanted to come back as the president or the Pope or a .400 baseball hitter. But now I want to come back as the bond market. You can intimidate everybody.’ Nothing has diminished the force of that remark since it was made over twenty years ago.

In 2012, I gave the first radio broadcast in peacetime by a Governor of the Bank of England since Montagu Norman delivered a talk on the BBC in March 1939, only months before the outbreak of the Second World War. As Norman left Broadcasting House, he was mobbed by British Social Credits Party demonstrators carrying flags and slogan-boards bearing the words: CONSCRIPT THE BANKERS FIRST! Feelings also ran high in 2012. The consequences of the events of 2007-9 are still unfolding, and anger about their effects on ordinary citizens is not diminishing. That disaster was a long time in the making, and will be just as long in the resolving.

But the cost of lost output and employment from our continuing failure to manage money and banking and prevent crises is too high for us to wait for another crisis to occur before we act to protect future generations.

Charles Dickens’ novel A Tale of Two Cities has not only a very famous opening sentence but an equally famous closing sentence. As Sydney Carton sacrifices himself to the guillotine in the place of another, he reflects: ‘It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done …’ If we can find a way to end the alchemy of the system of money and banking we have inherited then, at least in the sphere of economics, it will indeed be a far, far better thing than we have ever done.



‘I think that Capitalism, wisely managed, can probably be made more efficient for attaining economic ends than any alternative system yet in sight.’ John Maynard Keynes, The End of Laissez-faire (1926)

‘The experience of being disastrously wrong is salutary; no economist should be spared it, and few are.’ John Kenneth Galbraith, A Life in Our Times (1982)

History is what happened before you were born. That is why it is so hard to learn lessons from history: the mistakes were made by the previous generation. As a student in the 1960s, I knew why the 1930s were such a bad time. Outdated economic ideas guided the decisions of governments and central banks, while the key individuals were revealed in contemporary photographs as fuddy-duddies who wore whiskers and hats and were ignorant of modern economics. A younger generation, in academia and government, trained in modern economics, would ensure that the Great Depression of the 1930s would never be repeated.

In the 1960s, everything seemed possible. Old ideas and conventions were jettisoned, and a new world beckoned. In economics, an influx of mathematicians, engineers and physicists brought a new scientific approach to what the nineteenth-century philosopher and writer Thomas Carlyle christened the ‘dismal science’. It promised not just a better understanding of our economy, but an improved economic performance.

The subsequent fifty years were a mixed experience. Over that period, national income in the advanced world more than doubled, and in the so-called developing world hundreds of millions of people were lifted out of extreme poverty. And yet runaway inflation in the 1970s was followed in 2007-9 by the biggest financial crisis the world has ever seen. How do we make sense of it all? Was the post-war period a success or a failure?

The origins of economic growth

The history of capitalism is one of growth and rising living standards interrupted by financial crises, most of which have emanated from our mismanagement of money and banking. My Chinese colleague spoke an important, indeed profound, truth.

The financial crisis of 2007-9 (hereafter ‘the crisis’) was not the fault of particular individuals or economic policies. Rather, it was merely the latest manifestation of our collective failure to manage the relationship between finance, the structure of money and banking, and a capitalist system.

Failure to appreciate this explains why most accounts of the crisis focus on the symptoms and not the underlying causes of what went wrong. The fact that we have not yet got the hang of it does not mean that a capitalist economy is doomed to instability and failure. It means that we need to think harder about how to make it work.

Over many years, a capitalist economy has proved the most successful route to escape poverty and achieve prosperity.

Capitalism, as I use the term here, is an economic system in which private owners of capital hire wage earners to work in their businesses and pay for investment by raising finance from banks and financial markets.

The West has built the institutions to support a capitalist system, the rule of law to enforce private contracts and protect property rights, intellectual freedom to innovate and publish new ideas, anti-trust regulation to promote competition and break up monopolies, and collectively financed services and networks, such as education, water, electricity and telecommunications, which provide the infrastructure to support a thriving market economy. Those institutions create a balance between freedom and restraint, and between unfettered competition and regulation. It is a subtle balance that has emerged and evolved over time. And it has transformed our standard of living. Growth at a rate of 2.5 per cent a year, close to the average experienced in North America and Europe since the Second World War, raises real total national income twelvefold over one century, a truly revolutionary outcome.

Over the past two centuries, we have come to take economic growth for granted. Writing in the middle of that extraordinary period of economic change in the mid-eighteenth century, the Scottish philosopher and political economist, Adam Smith, identified the source of the breakout from relative economic stagnation, an era during which productivity (output per head) was broadly constant and any increase resulted from discoveries of new land or other natural resources, to a prolonged period of continuous growth of productivity: specialisation. It was possible for individuals to specialise in particular tasks, the division of labour, and by working with capital equipment to raise their productivity by many times the level achieved by a jack-of-all-trades. To illustrate his argument, Smith employed his now famous example of a pin factory:

A workman could scarce, perhaps, with his utmost industry, make one pin in a day, and certainly could not make twenty. But in the way in which this business is now carried on, not only the whole work is a peculiar trade, but it is divided into a number of branches. One man draws out the wire, another straights it, a third cuts it, a fourth points it, a fifth grinds it at the top for receiving the head The important business of making a pin is, in this manner, divided into about eighteen distinct operations, which, in some manufactories, are all performed by distinct hands.

The factory Smith was describing employed ten men and made over 48,000 pins in a day.

The application of technical knowhow to more and more tasks increased specialisation and raised productivity. Specialisation went hand in hand with an even greater need for both a means to exchange the fruits of one’s labour for an ever wider variety of goods produced by other specialists, money, and a way to finance the purchase of the capital equipment that made specialisation possible, banks.

As each person in the workforce became more specialised, more machinery and capital investment was required to support them, and the role of money and banks increased. After a millennium of roughly constant output per person, from the middle of the eighteenth century productivity started, slowly but surely, to rise. Capitalism was, quite literally, producing the goods. Historians will continue to debate why the Industrial Revolution occurred in Britain, population growth, plentiful supplies of coal and iron, supportive institutions, religious beliefs and other factors all feature in recent accounts.

But the evolution of money and banking was a necessary condition for the Revolution to take off.

Almost a century later, with the experience of industrialisation and a massive shift of labour from the land to urban factories, socialist writers saw things differently. For Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels the future was clear. Capitalism was a temporary staging post along the journey from feudalism to socialism. In their Communist Manifesto of 1848, they put forward their idea of ‘scientific socialism’ with its deterministic view that capitalism would ultimately collapse and be replaced by socialism or communism. Later, in the first volume of Das Kapital (1867), Marx elaborated (at great length) on this thesis and predicted that the owners of capital would become ever richer while excessive capital accumulation would lead to a falling rate of profit, reducing the incentive to invest and leaving the working class immersed in misery. The British industrial working class in the nineteenth century did indeed suffer miserable working conditions, as graphically described by Charles Dickens in his novels. But no sooner had the ink dried on Marx’s famous work than the British economy entered a long period of rising real wages (money wages adjusted for the cost of living). Even the two world wars and the intervening Great Depression in the 1930s could not halt rising productivity and real wages, and broadly stable rates of profit. Economic growth and improving living standards became the norm.

But if capitalism did not collapse under the weight of its own internal contradictions, neither did it provide economic security. During the twentieth century, the extremes of hyperinflations and depressions eroded both living standards and the accumulated wealth of citizens in many capitalist economies, especially during the Great Depression in the 1930s, when mass unemployment sparked renewed interest in the possibilities of communism and central planning, especially in Europe. The British economist John Maynard Keynes promoted the idea that government intervention to bolster total spending in the economy could restore full employment, without the need to resort to fully fledged socialism.

After the Second World War, there was a widespread belief that government planning had won the war and could be the means to win the peace. In Britain, as late as 1964 the newly elected Labour government announced a ‘National Plan’. Inspired by a rather naive version of Keynesian ideas, it focused on policies to boost the demand for goods and services rather than the ability of the economy to produce them. As the former outstripped the latter, the result was inflation. On the other side of the Atlantic, the growing cost of the Vietnam War in the late 1960s also led to higher inflation.

Rising inflation put pressure on the internationally agreed framework within which countries had traded with each other since the Bretton Woods Agreement of 1944, named after the conference held in the New Hampshire town in July of that year. Designed to allow a war-damaged Europe slowly to rebuild its economy and reintegrate into the world trading system, the agreement created an international monetary system under which countries set their own interest rates but fixed their exchange rates among themselves. For this to be possible, movements of capital between countries had to be severely restricted otherwise capital would move to where interest rates were highest, making it impossible to maintain either differences in those rates or fixed exchange rates. Exchange controls were ubiquitous, and countries imposed limits on investments in foreign currency. As a student, I remember that no British traveller in the 1960s could take abroad with them more than £50 a year to spend.

The new international institutions, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, would use funds provided by its members to finance temporary shortages of foreign currency and the investment needed to replace the factories and infrastructure destroyed during the Second World War. Implicit in this framework was the belief that countries would have similar and low rates of inflation. Any loss of competitiveness in one country, as a result of higher inflation than in its trading partners, was assumed to be temporary and would be met by a deflationary policy to restore competitiveness while borrowing from the IMF to finance a short-term trade deficit. But in the late 1960s differences in inflation across countries, especially between the United States and Germany, appeared to be more than temporary, and led to the breakdown of the Bretton Woods system in 1970-1. By the early 1970s, the major economies had moved to a system of ‘floating’ exchange rates, in which currency values are determined by private sector supply and demand in the markets for foreign exchange.

Inevitably, the early days of floating exchange rates reduced the discipline on countries to pursue low inflation. When the two oil shocks of the 1970s, in 1973, when an embargo by Arab countries led to a quadrupling of prices, and 1979, when prices doubled after disruption to supply following the Iranian Revolution hit the western world, the result was the Great Inflation, with annual inflation reaching 13 per cent in the United States and 27 per cent in the United Kingdom.

Economic experiments

From the late 1970s onwards, the western world then embarked on what we can now see were three bold experiments to manage money, exchange rates and the banking system better. The first was to give central banks much greater independence in order to bring down and stabilise inflation, subsequently enshrined in the policy of inflation targeting, the goal of national price stability. The second was to allow capital to move freely between countries and encourage a shift to fixed exchange rates both within Europe, culminating in the creation of a monetary union, and in a substantial proportion of the most rapidly growing part of the world economy, particularly China, which fixed its exchange rates against the US dollar, the goal of exchange rate stability. And the third experiment was to remove regulations limiting the activities of the banking and financial system to promote competition and allow banks both to diversify into new products and regions and to expand in size, with the aim of bringing stability to a banking system often threatened in the past by risks that were concentrated either geographically or by line of business, the goal of financial stability.

These three simultaneous experiments might now be best described as having three consequences the Good, the Bad and the Ugly. The Good was a period between about 1990 and 2007 of unprecedented stability of both output and inflation the Great Stability. Monetary policy around the world changed radically. Inflation targeting and central bank independence spread to more than thirty countries. And there were significant changes in the dynamics of inflation, which on average became markedly lower, less variable and less persistent.

The Bad was the rise in debt levels. Eliminating exchange rate flexibility in Europe and the emerging markets led to growing trade surpluses and deficits. Some countries saved a great deal while others had to borrow to finance their external deficit. The willingness of the former to save outweighed the willingness of the latter to spend, and so long-term interest rates in the integrated world capital market began to fall. The price of an asset, whether a house, shares in a company or any other claim on the future, is the value today of future expected returns (rents, the value of housing services from living in your own home, or dividends). To calculate that price one must convert future into current values by discounting them at an interest rate. The immediate effect of a fall in interest rates is to raise the prices of assets across the board. So as long-term interest rates in the world fell, the value of assets especially of houses rose. And as the values of assets increased, so did the amounts that had to be borrowed to enable people to buy them. Between 1986 and 2006, household debt rose from just under 70 per cent of total household income to almost 120 per cent in the United States and from 90 per cent to around 140 per cent in the United Kingdom.

The Ugly was the development of an extremely fragile banking system. In the USA, Federal banking regulators’ increasingly lax interpretation of the provisions to separate commercial and investment banking introduced in the 1933 Banking Act (often known as Glass-Steagall, the senator and representative respectively who led the passage of the legislation) reached its inevitable conclusion with the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999, which swept away any remaining restrictions on the activities of banks. In the UK, the so-called Big Bang of 1986, which started as a measure to introduce competition into the Stock Exchange, led to takeovers of small stockbroking firms and mergers between commercial banks and securities houses. Banks diversified and expanded rapidly after deregulation. In continental Europe so-called universal banks had long been the norm. The assets of large international banks doubled in the five years before 2008. Trading of new and highly complex financial products among banks meant that they became so closely interconnected that a problem in one would spread rapidly to others, magnifying rather than spreading risk.

Banks relied less and less on their own resources to finance lending and became more and more dependent on borrowing. The equity capital of banks, the funds provided by the shareholders of the bank accounted for a declining proportion of overall funding. Leverage, the ratio of total assets (or liabilities) to the equity capital of a bank, rose to extraordinary levels. On the eve of the crisis, the leverage ratio for many banks was 30 or more, and for some investment banks it was between 40 and 50. A few banks had ratios even higher than that. With a leverage ratio of even 25 it would take a fall of only 4 per cent in the average value of a bank’s assets to wipe out the whole of the shareholders’ equity and leave it unable to service its debts.

By 2008, the Ugly led the Bad to overwhelm the Good. The crisis, one might say catastrophe of the events that began to unfold under the gaze of a disbelieving world in 2007, was the failure of all three experiments. Greater stability of output and inflation, although desirable in itself, concealed the build-up of a major disequilibrium in the composition of spending. Some countries were saving too little and borrowing too much to be able to sustain their path of spending in the future, while others saved and lent so much that their consumption was pushed below a sustainable path. Total saving in the world was so high that interest rates, after allowing for inflation, fell to levels incompatible in the long run with a profitable growing market economy. Falling interest rates led to rising asset values and increases in the debt taken out against those more valuable assets. Fixed exchange rates exacerbated the burden of the debts, and in Europe the creation of monetary union in 1999 sapped the strength of many of its economies, as they became increasingly uncompetitive. Large, highly leveraged banks proved unstable and were vulnerable to even a modest loss of confidence, resulting in contagion to other banks and the collapse of the system in 2008.

At their outset the ill-fated nature of the three experiments was not yet visible. On the contrary, during the 1990s the elimination of high and variable inflation, which had undermined market economies in the 1970s, led to a welcome period of macroeconomic stability. The Great Stability, or the Great Moderation as it was dubbed in the United States, was seen, as in many ways it was, as a success for monetary policy. But it was unsustainable. Policy-makers were conscious of problems inherent in the first two experiments, but seemed powerless to do anything about them. At international gatherings, such as those of the IMF, policy-makers would wring their hands about the ‘global imbalances’ but no one country had any incentive to do anything about it. If a country had, on its own, tried to swim against the tide of falling interest rates, it would have experienced an economic slowdown and rising unemployment without any material impact on either the global economy or the banking system. Even then the prisoner’s dilemma was beginning to rear its ugly head.

Nor was it obvious how the unsustainable position of the world economy would come to an end. I remember attending a seminar of economists and policy-makers at the IMF as early as 2002 where the consensus was that there would eventually be a sharp fall in the value of the US dollar, which would produce a change in spending patterns. But long before that could happen, the third experiment ended with the banking crisis of September and October 2008. The shock that some of the biggest and most successful commercial banks in North America and Europe either failed, or were seriously crippled, led to a collapse of confidence which produced the largest fall in world trade since the 1930s. Something had gone seriously wrong.

Opinions differ as to the cause of the crisis. Some see it as a financial panic in which fundamentally sound financial institutions were left short of cash as confidence in the credit-worthiness of banks suddenly changed and professional investors stopped lending to them, a liquidity crisis. Others see it as the inevitable outcome of bad lending decisions by banks, a solvency crisis, in which the true value of banks’ assets had fallen by enough to wipe out most of their equity capital, meaning that they might be unable to repay their debts. But almost all accounts of the recent crisis are about the symptoms, the rise and fall of housing markets, the explosion of debt and the excesses of the banking system rather than the underlying causes of the events that overwhelmed the economies of the industrialised world in 2008. Some even imagine that the crisis was solely an affair of the US financial sector. But unless the events of 2008 are seen in their global economic context, it is hard to make sense of what happened and of the deeper malaise in the world economy.

The story of what happened can be explained in little more than a few pages, everything you need to know but were afraid to ask about the causes of the recent crisis. So here goes.

The story of the crisis

By the start of the twenty-first century it seemed that economic prosperity and democracy went hand in hand. Modern capitalism spawned growing prosperity based on growing trade, free markets and competition, and global banks. In 2008 the system collapsed. To understand why the crisis was so big, and came as such a surprise, we should start at the key turning point, the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. At the time it was thought to represent the end of communism, indeed the end of the appeal of socialism and central planning.

For some it was the end of history. For most, it represented a victory for free market economics. Contrary to the prediction of Marx, capitalism had displaced communism. Yet who would have believed that the fall of the Wall was not just the end of communism but the beginning of the biggest crisis in capitalism since the Great Depression?

What has happened over the past quarter of a century to bring about this remarkable change of fortune in the position of capitalist economies?

After the demise of the socialist model of a planned economy, China, countries of the former Soviet Union and India embraced the international trading system, adding millions of workers each year to the pool of labour around the world producing tradeable, especially manufactured, goods. In China alone, over 70 million manufacturing jobs were created during the twenty-first century, far exceeding the 42 million working in manufacturing in 2012 in the United States and Europe combined. The pool of labour supplying the world trading system more than trebled in size. Advanced economies benefited from an influx of cheap consumer goods at the expense of employment in the manufacturing sector.

The aim of the emerging economies was to follow Japan and Korea in pursuing an export-led growth strategy. To stimulate exports, their exchange rates were held down by fixing them at a low level against the US dollar. The strategy worked, especially in the case of China. Its share in world exports rose from 2 per cent to 12 per cent between 1990 and 2013. China and other Asian economies ran large trade surpluses. In other words, they were producing more than they were spending and saving more than they were investing at home. The desire to save was very strong. In the absence of a social safety net, households in China chose to save large proportions of their income to provide self-insurance in the event of unemployment or ill-health, and to finance retirement consumption. Such a high level of saving was exacerbated by the policy from 1980 of limiting most families to one child, making it difficult for parents to rely on their children to provide for them in retirement.

Asian economies in general also saved more in order to accumulate large holdings of dollars as insurance in case their banking system ran short of foreign currency, as happened to Korea and other countries in the Asian financial crisis of the 1990s.



The End of Alchemy: Money, Banking and the Future of the Global Economy

by Mervyn King

get it at Amazon.com

Depressive Realism. Interdisciplinary perspectives – Colin Feltham.

Depressive Realism argues that people with mild-to-moderate depression have a more accurate perception of reality than nondepressives.

This book challenges the tacit hegemony of contemporary positive thinking, as well as the standard assumption in cognitive behavioural therapy that depressed individuals must have cognitive distortions.

The kind of world we live in, and that we are, cyclically determines how we feel and think. Some of us perceive and construe the world in dismal terms and believe our construal to be truer than competing accounts. Depending on what the glass is half-full of, the Depressive Realist may regard it as worthless, tasteless, poisonous or ultimately futile to drink.

I do not mean to say that people who experience clinical depression should not have therapy if they wish to, nor even that it does not sometimes help. Rather, I believe the assumption should not be made that depressive or negative views about life and experience necessarily correlate with psychological illness.

Depressive Realism seriously questions the standard assumption in cognitive behaviour therapy that depressed individuals must have cognitive distortions, and indeed reverses this to ask whether DRs might have a more objective grasp of reality than others, and a stubborn refusal to embrace illusion.

I argue that human life contains many glaringly tragic and depressing components and the denial or minimisation of these adds yet another level of depression.

Depressive realism is a worldview of human existence that is essentially negative, and which challenges assumptions about the value of life and the institutions claiming to answer life’s problems. Drawing from central observations from various disciplines, this book argues that a radical honesty about human suffering might initiate wholly new ways of thinking, in everyday life and in clinical practice for mental health, as well as in academia.

Divided into sections that reflect depressive realism as a worldview spanning all academic disciplines, chapters provide examples from psychology, psychotherapy, philosophy and more to suggest ways in which depressive realism can critique each discipline and academia overall. This book challenges the tacit hegemony of contemporary positive thinking, as well as the standard assumption in cognitive behavioural therapy that depressed individuals must have cognitive distortions. It also appeals to the utility of depressive realism for its insights, its pursuit of truth, as well as its emphasis on the importance of learning from negativity and failure. Arguments against depressive realism are also explored.

This book makes an important contribution to our understanding of depressive realism within an interdisciplinary context. It will be of key interest to academics, researchers and postgraduates in the fields of psychology, mental health, psychotherapy, history and philosophy. It will also be of great interest to psychologists, psychotherapists and counsellors.

Colin Feltham is Emeritus Professor of Critical Counselling Studies at Sheffield Hallam University. He is also External Associate Professor of Humanistic Psychology at the University of Southern Denmark.


One could declare this to be simply a book about pessimism but that term would be inaccurate and insufficient. A non-verbal shortcut into the subject could be had by listening to Tears for Fears’ Mad World or Dinah Washington’s This Bitter Earth, or perhaps just by reading today’s newspaper. Depressive realism is the term used throughout this book but it will often be abbreviated to DR for ease of reading, referring to the negative worldview and also to anyone subscribing to this worldview (a DR, or DRs). DRs themselves may regard the ‘depressive’ part of the label as gratuitous, thinking their worldview to be simply realism just as Buddhism holds dukkha to be a fact of life.

Initially, it may seem that this book has a traditional mental health or psychological focus, but it draws from a range of interdisciplinary sources, is pertinent to diverse contexts and hopefully of interest to readers in the fields of philosophical anthropology, philosophy of mental health and existentialism and psychotherapy. I imagine it may be of negative, argumentative interest to some theologians, anthropologists, psychologists, social scientists and related lay readers.

Although more implicitly than explicitly, the message running throughout the book is that the kind of world we live in, and that we are, cyclically determines how we feel and think. We will disagree about what kind of world it is, but I hope we might agree that the totality of our history and surroundings has much more impact on us than simply what goes round in our heads.

Depressive realism can be defined, described and contextualised in several ways. its first use appears to have been by Alloy and Abramson (1979) in a paper describing a psychology experiment comparing the judgements of mildly depressed and non-depressed people. It is necessary to make some clarification at the outset about ‘clinical depression’. I do not believe that depression is a desirable state, or that those who are severely depressed are more accurate in their evaluations of life than others (Carson et al., 2010). This is not a book advocating suicide as a solution to life’s difficulties, nor am I advocating voluntary human extinction, nor is the text intended to promote hatred of humanity. The DR discussed here should not be mistaken for a consensual, life-hating suicide cult even if it includes respect for the challenging views of Benatar (2006) and Perry (2014). Nor can one assume that all ‘depressives’ necessarily have permanently and identically pessimistic worldviews, nor indeed that the lines drawn by the psychological professionals between all such mood states are accurate. But one can ask that the majority worldview that ‘Iife is alright’ be set against the DR view that life contains arrestingly negative features (Ligotti, 2010).

The strictly psychological use of DR has now expanded into the world of literary criticism, for example, in Jeffery’s (2011) text on Michel Houellebecq. It is this second, less technical sense of DR on which I focus mainly in this book, that is, on the way in which some of us perceive and construe the world in dismal terms and believe our construal to be truer than competing accounts. Inevitably, within this topic we find ourselves involved in rather tedious realism wars or epistemological battles between yea-sayers, nay-sayers and those who fantasise that objective evidence exists that can end the wars.

Insofar as any term includes ‘realism’, we can say it has a philosophical identity. In the case of DR, the philosophical pessimism most closely associated with Schopenhauer may be its natural home. Existentialism is often considered a negative philosophy, and sometimes wholly nihilistic, but in fact it includes or allows for several varieties of worldview. DR receives the same kind of criticism as existentialism often has, which is that it is less an explicit philosophy than a mood, or a rather vague expression of the personalities, projections and opinions of certain writers or artists.

Depressive realism as it is translated from psychology to philosophy can be said to refer to the belief that phenomena are accurately perceived as having negative weighting. Put differently, we can say that ‘the truth about life’ always turns out to be more negative than positive, and hence any sustained truth-seeking must eventually find itself mired in unpleasant discoveries.

We then come to synonyms or closely related terms and ideas. These include, in alphabetical order, absurdism, anthropathology, antihumanism, cynicism, depressionism, disenchantment, emptiness, existential anxiety and depression, futilitarianism, meaninglessness, melancholia, misanthropy, miserabilism, nihilism, pessimism, radical scepticism, rejectionism, tedium vitae, tragedy, tragicomedy or Weltschmerz. We could add saturninity, melancology and other terms if we wanted to risk babellian excess, or flag up James Joyce’s ‘unhappitants of the earth’ as a suitable descriptor for DRs. We could stray into Buddhist territory and call up the concepts of samsara and dukkha. I do not claim that such terms are synonymous or that those who would sign up to DR espouse them all but they are closely associated, unless you are a semantically obsessive philosopher.

Dienstag (2006) denies any necessary commonality between different intellectual expressions of pessimism, and Weller (2011) demonstrates a connoisseur-ship of nuances of nihilism. Kushlev et al. (2015) point out that sadness and unhappiness are not identical. But Daniel (2013) stresses the assemblage of melancholy, and Bowring (2008) provides a very useful concise history, geography and semantics of melancholy.

Here is one simple illustration of how the shades of DR blend into one, not in any linear progression but pseudo-cyclically. The DR often experiences the weariness of one who has seen it all before, is bored and has had enough; the melancholy of the one who feels acutely the elusiveness and illusion of happiness, the impermanence of life and always smells death in the air; the pessimism of one whose prophetic intuition knows that all proposed quasi-novel solutions must eventually fade to zero; the nihilism of one whose folly-spotting and illusion-sensing radar never rests; the depression of one whose black dog was always there, returns from time to time and may grow a little blacker in old age; the sorrowful incredulity at the gullible credulity of hope-addicts and faith-dealers; the deep sadness of one who travels extensively and meets many people whose national and personal suffering is written all over their faces; and the bleakly aloof fundamentalism of one who believes his epistemology to be superior to other, always shallower accounts. In some cases an extreme form of DR may tip into contemptuous or active nihilism, for example, DeCasseres’s (2013) ‘baleful vision’.

But DR need not be, seldom is, a state of maximum or unchanging bleakness or sheer unhappiness, and many DRs like Cioran, Beckett and Zapffe could be very funny, as is Woody Allen. But grey-skies thinking is the DR’s natural default position and ambivalence his highest potential.

A broad, working definition of depressive realism runs as follows: depressive realism is a worldview of human existence as essentially negative. To qualify this, we have to say that some DRs regard the ‘world’ (everything from the cosmos to everyday living) as wholly negative, as a burdensome absurdity, while some limit its negativity to human experience, or to certain aspects or eras of humanity or to sensate life. ‘Existence is no good at all’ probably covers the first outlook (see Ligotti, 2010), and ‘existence contains much more bad than good’ the second (Benatar, 2006). We might also speak of dogmatic DR and a looser, attitudinal DR that seeks dialogue.

Critics of DR, of whom there are many as we shall see, often joke lamely about the perceived glass half empty mentality underlying this view, and tirelessly point out the cliché that a glass half empty is half-full. DR may not deny that life includes or seems to include some positive values, sometimes, but it is founded on the belief, the assertion, that it is overall more negative than positive. And, depending on what the glass is haIf-full of, the DR may regard it as worthless, tasteless, poisonous or ultimately futile to drink.

The succinct ingredients of DR are perhaps as follows. The human species is overdeveloped into two strands, the clever and inventive, and the destructive and distressing, all stemming from evolutionarily accidental surplus consciousness. We have developed to the point of outgrowing the once necessary God myth, confronting the accidental origins of everything and realising that our individual lives end completely at death. We have to live and grow old with these sad and stubborn facts. We must sometimes look at the vast night sky and see our diminutive place reflected in it, and we realise that our species’ existence itself is freakishly limited and all our earthly purposes are ultimately for nought.

We can never organise optimal living conditions for ourselves, and we realise that our complex societies contain abundant absurdities. World population increases, information overload increases and new burdens outweigh any benefits of material progress however clever and inventive we are. We claim to value truth but banish these facts from our consciousness by all manner of mendacious, tortuous mental and behavioural devices. The majority somehow either denies all of the above or manages not to think about it. But it unconsciously nags at even the most religious and optimistic, and the compulsion to deny it drives fundamentalist religious revival, capitalist growth, war and mental illness.

Depressive realism may generate a range of attitudes from decisive suicidality or leaden apathy through to cheerful cynicism, eloquent disenchantment and compassionate or violent nihilism. We can argue that everyone has a worldview whether implicit or explicit, unconscious or conscious, inarticulate or eloquent. Wilhelm von Humboldt is credited with the origins of the concept, using the term Weltansicht (world meaning), with Weltanschauung arriving a little later with Kant and Hegel.

DR may contain idiosyncratic affects, perceptions and an overall worldview, the scale of negativity of which fluctuates. It may be embodied at an early age or emerge later with ageing and upon reflection, or after suffering a so-called ‘nadir experience’, and may even be overturned, although this event is probably rare. Often, we cannot help but see the world in the way we happen to see it, whether pessimistically or optimistically, even if our moods sometimes fluctuate upwards or downwards. Typically, no matter how broadminded or open to argument we consider ourselves to be, we all feel that we are right. The DR certainly fits this position, often regarding himself as a relentlessly sceptical truth-seeker where others buy into complacent thought and standard social illusions.

The person who has no particular take on existence, who genuinely takes each day or moment as it comes, is arguably rare.

We should ask what it is that is depressed in DR and what it is to which the realism points. Melancholy was once the more common term, depression simply meaning something being pushed downwards, as in dejected spirits. This downwardness places depression in line etymologically with the downwardness of pessimism, not to mention countless metaphors such as Bunyan’s trough of despond.

From the 17th century depression gained its clinical identity but the roots lie in much earlier humoral theory. Whichever metaphor is employed, however, we might ask why ‘upwards’ is implied to be the norm, and in what sense ‘downwards’ should be applied to ‘unhappy consciousness’. Heaven has always been located upwards and hell downwards. More accurate metaphors for depression might involve inward or horizontal states. But this would still leave the question of why outwardness and verticality should be regarded as more normal, or the view of the depressed, melancholic, downward, inward or horizontal human being as less acceptable or normal than its opposite, unless on purely statistical grounds.

I think it is fair and proper to make my own position as transparently clear as possible. In spite of critiques of writing from ‘the view from nowhere’, most academic writing persists in a quasi-objective style resting on the suspiciously erased person of the author. Like most DRs, my personality and outlook has always included a significantly depressive or negative component. I was once diagnosed in my early 30s in a private psychotherapy clinic as having chronic mild depression. I have often been the butt of teasing and called an Eeyore or cynic. I am an atheist.

I have had a fair amount of therapy during my life but in looking back I have to say that:

a. none of that therapy has fundamentally changed the way I experience life, and

b. my mature belief is that I was always this way, that is, someone with a ‘depressive outlook’.

Only quite recently have I come to regard this as similar to the claim made by most gay people that they were born gay, or have been gay for as long as they remember, that they do not think of themselves in pathological terms and they do not believe homosexuality to be a legitimate object for therapeutic change.

I do not mean to say that people who experience clinical depression should not have therapy if they wish to, nor even that it does not sometimes help. Rather, I believe the assumption should not be made that depressive or negative views about life and experience necessarily correlate with psychological illness.

Since I have worked in the counselling and psychotherapy field for about 35 years, I have some explaining to do, which appears mainly in Chapter 6.

Appearing in the series Explorations in Mental Health as this book does, I should like to give a brief sense of location here. In truth this is an interdisciplinary subject that by its nature has no exclusive home. On the other hand, given my academic background, there are some clear links with psychology, psychotherapy and counselling. On the question of mental health, the contribution of DR is to re-examine assumptions about ‘good’ mental health and in particular to challenge the standard pathological view of depression as sick, and with therapists as having a clinical mandate to pronounce on everything with depressive or gloomy connotations.

The line between so-called existential anxiety and so-called death and health anxiety can be a fine one, and we should question the agonised revisions and diagnostic hyperinflation by the contributors to the DSM over such matters (APA, 2013; Frances, 2014).

DR seriously questions the standard assumption in cognitive behaviour therapy that depressed individuals must have cognitive distortions, and indeed reverses this to ask whether DRs might have a more objective grasp of reality than others, and a stubborn refusal to embrace illusion.

In conducting this challenge we are taken well beyond psychology into ontology, history, the philosophy of mental health and other disciplines. The mission of this book is hardly to revolutionise the field of mental health, but it is in part to reassess the link between perceived depression, pessimism and negative worldviews.

But a book of this kind emerges not only from a personal position and beliefs. I may experience my share of low mood, insomnia, conflict and death anxiety, but my views are also informed abundantly by wide reading, observations of everyday life and friends. Mirroring the ‘blind, pitiless indifference and cruelty of nature’ (Dawkins, 2001), I see around me a man in his 80s passing his days in the fog of Alzheimer’s, another in his 70s with Parkinson’s disease, a woman suffering from many sad medical after-effects of leg amputation, another woman suffering from menopausal mood swings, couples revealing the cracks in their allegedly smooth relationships, several young men struggling gloomily to find any fit between their personalities and the workplace, colleagues putting a brave face on amid insane institutional pressures and the list of merely first world suffering could go on and on.

The sources of this common brutalism are biological and social. The examples of suffering easily outnumber any clear examples of the standard optimistic depiction of happy humans, yet this latter narrative continues to assert itself, backed up by cheerful statistics and miserabilism countering examples.

I argue that human life contains many glaringly tragic and depressing components and the denial or minimisation of these adds yet another level of depression.

The lead characters in DR will emerge during the book. It may be useful here, however, to mention those who feature prominently in the DR gallery. These include Gautama Buddha, Arthur Schopenhauer, Giacomo Leopardi, Philipp Mainlander, Thomas Hardy, Edgar Saltus, Sigmund Freud, Samuel Beckett, E.M. Cioran, Peter Wessel Zapffe, Thomas Ligotti, John Gray, David Benatar and Michel Houellebecq.

One of the admitted difficulties in such billing is that those still alive might well disown membership of this or any group. Another problem is who can really be excluded: for example, why not include Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Dostoevsky, Kafka, Camus? As well as the so-called greats, we should pause to remember more minor writers, for example, the Scottish poet James Thomson (1834-82) whose The City of Dreadful Night captures perfectly many DR themes (see Chapter 4). Sloterdijk (1987) included in his similar ‘cabinet of cynics’ an idiosyncratic trawl from Diogenes to Heidegger; Feld’s (2011) ‘children of Saturn’ features Dante and Ficino.

In truth DRs may be scattered both interdisciplinarily and transhistorically (Breeze, 2014). To some extent questions of DR membership are addressed in the text, but it is true to say such discriminations are not my main focus.

This book is structured loosely by disciplines in order to demonstrate the many sources and themes involved. My treatment of these disciplines will not satisfy experts in those disciplines and must appear at times náive, imprecise or inaccurate, but these fields impinge on us, claim to define how we live and suffer and what remedies might exist. In another kind of civilisation we might have no such epistemological divisions. I look at how these disciplines inform DR but also use DR as critical leverage to examine their shortcomings.

Hence, Chapter 1 excavates some of the relevant evolutionary and common historical themes.

Chapter 2 looks at some religious themes and the theologies explicating these, as well as the contemporary fascination with spirituality and its downsides.

In Chapter 3 I examine a number of philosophical themes connecting with DR.

Some examples in literature and film are analysed in Chapter 4.

Psychology comes into focus in Chapter 5, to be complemented and contrasted with psychotherapy and the psychological therapies in Chapter 6.

In Chapter 7 socio-political themes are scrutinised insofar as they illustrate DR.

I then move on to science, technology and the future in Chapter 8, again in order to depict the dialectic between these and DR.

The ‘lifespan and everyday life’ is the focus of Chapter 9, which takes a partial turn away from academic disciplines to the more experiential.

Arguments against DR, as comprehensive as I can make them in a concise form, comprise Chapter 10, while the final chapter envisages the possible utility of DR.

One of the many things DRs find depressing about the societies we live in is that those of us shaped ironically by twisted educational systems to think and write about such matters, and lucky to find a haIf-accommodating employment niche, are likely to be in or associated with academia. This institution has survived for many centuries and in spite of its elitist niche remains somewhat influential, although far less influential than its personnel imagine.

In its current form it is being ravaged by the so-called new public management but at the same time in its social science, arts and humanities departments is defiantly dominated by left-wing academics whose writing style is often highly symbolic, obfuscatory, arguably often meaningless (Sokal, 2009) and designed for coded communication with a mere minutiae of the general population, that is, academic peers.

On the other hand, academia can also suffer from a kind of censorship-by-demand-for-evidence, meaning that common observation, subjectivity and anecdote are erased or downgraded and a statistics inebriated tyranny reigns supreme. Once when presenting some of the themes in this book to an academic ‘research group’, I was told I had cherry-picked too many bad examples, as if my colleagues were all paragons of balanced argument and nothing short of watertight pseudo-objectivity could be tolerated: in my view this itself is an example of silencing the DR nihilism that threatens an uncritically ‘life is good’ assumption.

A dilemma facing anyone who hopes to capture the essence of depressive realism and the parrhesia within it concerns the style in which to write and the assumptions and allusions to make. Universities seem barely fit for purpose any longer, or their purpose is unclear and some have predicted their demise (Readings, 1997; Evans, 2005). This should not surprise us, on the contrary, we should learn to expect such decline as an inescapable part of the entropy of human institutions but it is a current aspect of our depressing social landscape.

I have only partly followed the academic convention of obsessively citing evidence and precise sources of evidence. In some cases, where no references are given, my figures and examples derive from unattributed multiple internet sources; I do not necessarily make any claims to authority or accuracy, and the reader should check on sources if he or she has such a need. In many instances I use terms such ‘many people believe’, which might irritate conventional social scientists. I also use anecdote, opinion and naturalistic observations fairly freely. Academic discourse is, I think, very similar to the ‘rhetoric’ exposed by Michelstaedter (2004), in contrast with the persuasion of personally earned insights and authentic observation, as Kierkegaard too would have recommended.

A confession. What appears above is what is expected of a writer, a logical outline, a promise of reading pleasures to come and of finding and offering meaning even in the teeth of meaninglessness (a trick accomplished by the sophistry of Critchley [1997], among other academic prestidigitators). As I moved from the publisher’s acceptance of my proposal to the task of actual composition I began to wonder if I could in fact do it. ‘Let’s do this thing’ is a common American expression of committed and energetic project initiation. As befits a text on depressive realism, the author is bedevilled by doubt: more of a Beckettian ‘is this thing even worth beginning?’ The topic is so massive that one is suffocated on all sides by the weight of precedents and related information, the beckoning nuances, the normative opposition to it and the hubris of attempting it. I anguished over the possibility of a subtitle, something like ‘perspectives on pointlessness’, that might convey a mixture of nihilism and humour. Such are our needs for and struggles with sublimation, and our neophilia, that it is tempting not to bother. However, here it is.

Chapter 1

Big history, anthropathology and depressive realism

Can we say there is something intrinsically fantastic (unlikely), admirable (beautifully complex) and simultaneously tragic (entropically doomed from the outset) about the universe? And about ourselves, the only selfconscious part of the universe as far as we know, struggling to make sense of our own existence, busily constructing and hoping for explanations even as we sail individually and collectively into oblivion? Was the being or something that came out of nothing ever a good thing (a random assertion of will in Schopenhauerian terms), a good thing for a while that then deteriorated, a good thing that has its ups and downs but will endure or a good thing that must sooner or later end? Or perhaps neither good nor bad?

Depressive realism looks not only to the distant future but into the deepest past, interpreting it as ultimately negatively toned.

It is quite possible and indeed common practice for depressive realists and others to explicate their accounts without recourse to history. It appears that much contemporary academic discourse, certainly in the social sciences, is tacitly structured abiologically and ahistorically, as if in spite of scientific accounts we have not yet accepted any more than creationists that we are blindly evolved and evolving beings. In other words, in spite of much hand-wringing, many maintain a resignedly agnogenic position as regards the origins of the human malaise: we do not and may never know the causes.

But we have not appeared from nowhere, we are not selfcreating or God-created, we were not born as a species a few hundred or a few thousand years ago, we are not in any deep sense merely Plato’s heirs. Neither Marxist dialectical materialism nor Engels’ dialectics of nature capture the sheer temporal depth of evolution and its ultimate cosmogony (Shubin, 2014). Existence, beyond the animal drive to survive, is atheleological and unpromising. Religious and romantic theleologies largely avoid examination of our material roots and probable limits. From a certain DR perspective it is not only the future that has a dismal hue; an analysis of the deep past also yields much sorry material.

My preference is to begin with certain historical and materialist questions. The reasoning behind this is that (a) we have accounts of and claims to explain the existence of life as once benign but having become at some stage corrupt; (b) we might find new, compelling explanations for the negative pathways taken by humanity; (c) recorded observations of human tragedy that can be loosely called depressive realism are found in some of the earliest literature; (d) this procedure helps us to compare large scale and long-term DR propositions with relevant microphenomena and transient patterns. This anchorage in deep history does not necessarily imply a materialist reductionism to follow but it tends, I believe, to show a ceaselessly adaptive, evolutionarily iterative process and entropic trajectory via complexity.

The emerging disciplines of deep and big history challenge the arbitrary starting points, divisions and events of traditional history by going back to the earliest known of cosmic and non-human events, charting any discernible patterns and drawing tentative conclusions. Spier (2011) offers an excellent condensed account of this kind, but we probably need to add as a reinforcer the argument from Kraus (2012) that something from nothing is not only possible but inevitable and explicable by scientific laws. Indeed, it is necessary to begin here as a way of further eroding theistic claims that want to start with God and thereby insist on God’s (illusory) continuing sustenance and guiding purpose.

It is not the creation ex nihilo of the mythological, pre-scientific God, the omnipotent being who brought forth the universe from chaos that any longer helps us to understand our world, but modern science.

We do not know definitively how we evolved, but we have convincing enough causal threads at our disposal. Here I intend to sift through those of most interest in exploring the question of why our world has become such a depressing place.

We are animals but apparently higher animals, so far evolved beyond even our nearest relatives that some regard human beings as of another order of nature altogether. Given the millennia of religious belief that shaped our picture of ourselves, the Darwinian revolution even today is not accepted by all. Even some scientists who purport to accept the standard evolutionary account do not seem to accept our residual animal nature emotionally (Tallis, 2011).

But it is important to begin by asking about the life of wild animaIs. They must defend themselves against predators by hiding or fighting, and they must eat by grazing, scavenging or predation; they must reproduce and where necessary protect their young. Many animals spend a great deal of their time asleep, and some play. Social animals cultivate their groups by hunting together, communicating or grooming. Some animals protect their territory, build nests or rudimentary homes and a few make primitive tools; some migrate, and some maintain hierarchical structures. Most animals live relatively short lives, live with constant risk and are vigilant.

However it happened, human beings differ from animals in having developed a consciousness linked with tool-making, language and massive, highly structured societies that have taken us within millennia into today’s complex, earth spanning and nature dominating civilisation. Wild animals certainly suffer, contrary to idyllic fantasies of a harmonious nature but their suffering is mostly acute, resulting from injury, hunger and predation, and their lives are not extended beyond their natural ability to survive.

Our ingenuity and suffering are two sides of the same coin.

Weapon making and cooperation allowed us to rise above constant vulnerability to predators, but our lives are now often too safe, bland and boring, since we have forfeited the purpose of day-to-day survival. We have also benefited from becoming cleverer at the cost of loss of sensory acuity. Accordingly, and with painful paradox, we are driven to seek ‘meaning’ and we are gratuitously violent (Glover, 2001; White, 2012). Animals have no such problems.



Depressive Realism. Interdisciplinary perspectives

by Colin Feltham

get it at Amazon.com

Straight Talk on Trade. Ideas for a Sane World Economy – Dani Rodrik.

Are economists responsible for Donald Trump’s shocking victory in the US presidential election?

Adam Smith and David Ricardo would turn over in their graves if they read the details of, say, the Trans Pacific Partnership on intellectual property rules or investment regulations.

Economists’ failure to provide the full picture on trade, with all the necessary distinctions and caveats, has made it easier to tar trade, often wrongly, with all sorts of ill effects.

It is impossible to have hyperglobalization, democracy, and national sovereignty all at once; we can have at most two out of three.

We need to place the requirements of liberal democracy ahead of those of international trade and investment.

Globalization’s ills derive from the imbalance between the global nature of markets and the domestic nature of the rules that govern them.

Who needs the nation-state? We all do.

Nearly two decades ago, as my book Has Globalization Gone Too Far? went to press, I approached a well known economist to ask him if he would provide an endorsement for the back cover. I claimed in the book that, in the absence of a more concerted government response, too much globalization would deepen societal divisions, exacerbate distributional problems, and undermine domestic social bargains, arguments that have become conventional wisdom since.

The economist demurred. He didn’t really disagree with any of the analysis but worried that my book would provide “ammunition for the barbarians.” Protectionists would latch on to the book’s arguments about the downsides of globalization to provide cover for their narrow, selfish agenda.

It’s a reaction I still get from my fellow economists. One of them will hesitantly raise his hand following a talk and ask: Don’t you worry that your arguments will be abused and serve the demagogues and populists you are decrying?

There is always a risk that our arguments will be hijacked in the public debate by those with whom we disagree. But I have never understood why many economists believe this implies we should skew our argument about trade in one particular direction. The implicit premise seems to be that there are barbarians on only one side of the trade debate. Apparently, those who complain about World Trade Organization rules or trade agreements are dreadful protectionists, while those who support them are always on the side of the angels.

In truth, many trade enthusiasts are no less motivated by their own narrow, selfish agendas. Pharmaceutical firms pursuing tougher patent rules, banks pushing for unfettered access to foreign markets, or multinationals seeking special arbitration tribunals have no greater regard for the public interest than protectionists do. So when economists shade their arguments, they effectively favor one set of self-interested parties, “barbarians” over another.

It has long been an unspoken rule of public engagement for economists that they should champion trade and not dwell too much on the fine print. This has produced a curious situation. The standard models of trade with which economists work typically yield sharp distributional effects: income losses by certain groups of producers or workers are the flip side of the “gains from trade.” And economists have long known that market failures, including poorly functioning labor markets, credit market imperfections, knowledge or environmental externalities, and monopolies, can interfere with reaping those gains.

They have also known that the economic benefits of trade agreements that reach beyond borders to shape domestic regulations, as with the tightening of patent rules or the harmonization of health and safety requirements, are fundamentally ambiguous.

Nonetheless, economists can be counted on to parrot the wonders of comparative advantage and free trade whenever trade agreements come up. They have consistently minimized distributional concerns, even though it is now clear that the distributional impact of, say, the North American Free Trade Agreement or China’s entry into the World Trade Organization was significant for the most directly affected communities in the United States. They have overstated the magnitude of aggregate gains from trade deals, though such gains have been relatively small since at least the 1990s. They have endorsed the propaganda portraying today’s trade deals as “free trade agreements,” even though Adam Smith and David Ricardo would turn over in their graves if they read the details of, say, the Trans-Pacific Partnership on intellectual property rules or investment regulations.

This reluctance to be honest about trade has cost economists their credibility with the public. Worse still, it has fed their opponents’ narrative. Economists’ failure to provide the full picture on trade, with all the necessary distinctions and caveats, has made it easier to tar trade, often wrongly, with all sorts of ill effects.

For example, as much as trade may have contributed to rising inequality, it is only one factor contributing to that broad trend, and in all likelihood a relatively minor one, compared to technology. Had economists been more upfront about the downside of trade, they may have had greater credibility as honest brokers in this debate.

Similarly, we might have had a more informed public discussion about social dumping if economists had been willing to recognize that imports from countries where labor rights are not protected raise serious questions about distributive justice. It may have been possible then to distinguish cases where low wages in poor countries reflect low productivity from cases of genuine rights violations. And the bulk of trade that does not raise such concerns may have been better insulated from charges of “unfair trade.”

Likewise, if economists had listened to their critics who warned about currency manipulation, trade imbalances, and job losses, instead of sticking to models that assumed away unemployment and other macroeconomic problems, they might have been in a better position to counter excessive claims about the adverse impact of trade deals on employment.

In short, had economists gone public with the caveats, uncertainties, and skepticism of the seminar room, they might have become better defenders of the world economy. Unfortunately, their zeal to defend trade from its enemies has backfired. If the demagogues making nonsensical claims about trade are now getting a hearing, and actually winning power, it is trade’s academic boosters who deserve at least part of the blame.

This book is an attempt to set the record straight, and not just about trade, as the title suggests, but about several areas in which economists could have offered a more balanced, principled discussion. Though trade is a central aspect of those areas, and in large part emblematic of what’s happened in all of them, the same failures can be observed in policy discussions about financial globalization, the euro zone, or economic development strategies.

The book brings together much of my recent popular and nontechnical work on globalization, growth, democracy, politics, and the discipline of economics itself. The material that follows has been drawn from a variety of sources, my monthly syndicated columns for Project Syndicate as well as a few other short and lengthier pieces. In most cases, I have done only a light edit of the original text, updating it, providing connections with other parts of the book, and adding some references and supporting material. In places, I have rearranged the material from the original sources to provide a more seamless narrative. The full set of sources is listed at the back of the book.

The book shows how we could have constructed a more honest narrative on the world economy, one that would have prepared us for the eventual backlash and, perhaps, even rendered it less likely. It also suggests ideas for moving forward, to create better functioning national economies as well as a healthier globalization.

Chapter One

A Better Balance

The global trade regime has never been very popular in the United States. Neither the World Trade Organization (WTO) nor the multitudes of regional trade deals such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) have had strong support among the general public. But opposition, while broad, tended to be diffuse.

This has enabled policy makers to conclude a succession of trade agreements since the end of World War II. The world’s major economies were in a perpetual state of trade negotiations, signing two major global multilateral deals: the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and the treaty establishing the World Trade Organization. In addition, more than five hundred bilateral and regional trade agreements were signed, the vast majority of them since the WTO replaced the GATT in 1995.

The difference today is that international trade has moved to the center of the political debate. During the most recent US election, presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump both made opposition to trade agreements a key plank of their campaigns. And, judging from the tone of the other candidates, standing up for globalization amounted to electoral suicide in the political climate of the time. Trump’s eventual win can be chalked up at least in part to his hard line on trade and his promise to renegotiate deals that he argued had benefited other nations at the expense of the United States.

Trump’s and other populists’ rhetoric on trade may be excessive, but few deny any longer that the underlying grievances are real. Globalization has not lifted all boats. Many working families have been devastated by the impact of Iow-cost imports from China, Mexico, and elsewhere. And the big winners have been the financiers and skilled professionals who can take advantage of expanded markets. Although globalization has not been the sole, or even the most important, force driving inequality in the advanced economies, it has been a key contributor. Meanwhile, economists have struggled to find large gains from recent trade agreements for the economy as a whole.

What gives trade particular political salience is that it often raises fairness concerns in ways that the other major contributor to inequality, technology, does not. When I lose my job because my competitor innovates and introduces a better product, I have little cause to complain. When he outcompetes me by outsourcing to firms abroad that do things that would be illegal here, for example, prevent their workers from organizing and bargaining collectively, may have a legitimate gripe. It is not inequality per se that people tend to mind. What’s problematic is unfair inequality, when we are forced to compete under different ground rules.

During the 2016 US presidential campaign, Bernie Sanders forcefully advocated the renegotiation of trade agreements to reflect better the interests of working people. But such arguments immediately run up against the objection that any standstill or reversal on trade agreements would harm the world’s poorest, by diminishing their prospect of escaping poverty through export-led growth. “If you’re poor in another country, this is the scariest thing Bernie Sanders has said,” ran a headline in the popular and normally sober Vox.com news site.

But trade rules that are more sensitive to social and equity concerns in the advanced countries are not inherently in conflict with economic growth in poor countries. Globalization’s cheerleaders do considerable damage to their cause by framing the issue as a stark choice between existing trade arrangements and the persistence of global poverty. And progressives needlessly force themselves into an undesirable trade-off.

The standard narrative about how trade has benefited developing economies omits a crucial feature of their experience. Countries that managed to leverage globalization, such as China and Vietnam, employed a mixed strategy of export promotion and a variety of policies that violate current trade rules. Subsidies, domestic-content requirements, investment regulations, and, yes, often import barriers were critical to the creation of new, highervalue industries. Countries that rely on free trade alone (Mexico comes immediately to mind) have languished.

That is why trade agreements that tighten the rules, such as TPP would have done, are in fact mixed blessings for developing countries. China would not have been able to pursue its phenomenally successful industrialization strategy if the country had been constrained by WTO-type rules during the 1980s and 1990s. With the TPP, Vietnam would have had some assurance of continued access to the US market (existing barriers on the US side are already quite low), but in return would have had to submit to restrictions on subsidies, patent rules, and investment regulations.

And there is nothing in the historical record to suggest that poor countries require very low or zero barriers in the advanced economies in order to benefit greatly from globalization. In fact, the most phenomenal export-oriented growth experiences to date, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and China, all occurred when import tariffs in the United States and Europe were at moderate levels, and higher than where they are today.

So, for progressives who worry both about inequality in the rich countries and poverty in the rest of the world, the good news is that it is indeed possible to advance on both fronts. But to do so, we must transform our approach to trade deals in some drastic ways.

The stakes are extremely high. Poorly managed globalization is having profound effects not only in the United States but also in the rest of the developed world, especially Europe, and the low-income and middle-income countries in which a majority of the world’s workers live. Getting the balance between economic openness and policy space management right is of huge importance.

Europe on the Brink

The difficulties that deep economic integration raises for governance and democracy are nowhere in clearer sight than in Europe. Europe’s single market and single currency represent a unique experiment in what I havecalled in my previous work “hyperglobalization.” This experiment has opened a chasm between extensive economic integration and limited political integration that is historically unparalleled for democracies.

Once the financial crisis struck and the fragility of the European experiment came into full view, the weaker economies with large external imbalances needed a quick way out. European institutions and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) had an answer: structural reform. Sure, austerity would hurt. But a hefty dose of structural reform, liberalization of labor, product, and service markets, would make the pain bearable and help get the patient back on his feet. As I explain later in the book, this was a false hope from the very beginning.

It is undeniable that the euro crisis has done much damage to Europe’s political democracies. Confidence in the European project has eroded, centrist political parties have weakened, and extremist parties, particularly of the far right, are the primary beneficiaries. Less appreciated, but at least as important, is the damage that the crisis has done to democracy’s prospects outside the narrow circle of eurozone countries.

The sad fact is that Europe is no longer the shining beacon of democracy it was for other countries.

A community of nations that is unable to stop the unmistakable authoritarian slide in one of its members, Hungary, can hardly be expected to foster and cement democracy in countries on its periphery. We can readily see the consequences in a country like Turkey, where the loss of the “European anchor” has played a facilitating role in enabling Erdogan’s repeated power plays, and less directly in the faltering of the Arab Spring.

The costs of misguided economic policies have been the most severe for Greece. Politics in Greece has exhibited all the symptoms of a country being strangled by the trilemma of deep integration. It is impossible to have hyperglobalization, democracy, and national sovereignty all at once; we can have at most two out of three. Because Greece, along with others in the euro, did not want to give up any of these, it ended up enjoying the benefits of none. The country has bought time with a succession of new programs, but has yet to emerge out of the woods. It remains to be seen whether austerity and structural reforms will eventually return the country to economic health.

History suggests some grounds for skepticism. In a democracy, when the demands of financial markets and foreign creditors clash with those of domestic workers, pensioners, and the middle class, it is usually the locals who have the last say.

As if the economic ramifications of a full-blown eventual Greek default were not terrifying enough, the political consequences could be far worse. A chaotic eurozone breakup would cause irreparable damage to the European integration project, the central pillar of Europe’s political stability since World War II. It would destabilize not only the highly indebted European periphery but also core countries like France and Germany, which have been the architects of that project.

The nightmare scenario would be a 1930s style victory for political extremism. Fascism, Nazism, and communism were children of a backlash against globalization that had been building since the end of the nineteenth century, feeding on the anxieties of groups that felt disenfranchised and threatened by expanding market forces and cosmopolitan elites.

Free trade and the gold standard had required downplaying domestic priorities such as social reform, nationbuilding, and cultural reassertion. Economic crisis and the failure of international cooperation undermined not only globalization but also the elites that upheld the existing order. As my Harvard colleague Jeff Frieden has written, this paved the path for two distinct forms of extremism.

Faced with the choice between equity and economic integration, communists chose radical social reform and economic self-sufficiency. Faced with the choice between national assertion and globalism, fascists, Nazis, and nationalists chose nation-building.

Fortunately, fascism, communism, and other forms of dictatorships are passe today. But similar tensions between economic integration and local politics have long been simmering. Europe’s single market has taken shape much faster than Europe’s political community has; economic integration has leaped ahead of political integration.

The result is that mounting concerns about the erosion of economic security, social stability, and cultural identity could not be handled through mainstream political channels. National political structures became too constrained to offer effective remedies, while European institutions still remain too weak to command allegiance.

It is the extreme right that has benefited most from the centrists’ failure. In France, the National Front has been revitalized under Marine Le Pen and has turned into a major political force mounting a serious challenge for the presidency in 2017. In Germany, Denmark, Austria, Italy, Finland, and the Netherlands, right-wing populist parties have capitalized on the resentment around the euro to increase their vote shares and in some cases play kingmaker in their national political systems.

The backlash is not confined to eurozone members. In Scandinavia, the Sweden Democrats, a party with neoNazi roots, were running ahead of Social Democrats and had risen to the top of national polls in early 2017. And in Britain, of course, the antipathy toward Brussels and the yearning for national autonomy has resulted in Brexit, despite warnings of dire consequences from economists.

Political movements of the extreme right have traditionally fed on anti-immigration sentiment. But the Greek, Irish, Portuguese, and other bailouts, together with the euro’s troubles, have given them fresh ammunition. Their euro skepticism certainly appears to be vindicated by events. When Marine Le Pen was asked if she would unilaterally withdraw from the euro, she replied confidently, “When I am president, in a few months’ time, the eurozone probably won’t exist.”

As in the 1930s, the failure of international cooperation has compounded centrist politicians’ inability to respond adequately to their domestic constituents’ economic, social, and cultural demands. The European project and the eurozone have set the terms of debate to such an extent that, with the eurozone in tatters, these elites’ legitimacy has received an even more serious blow.

Europe’s centrist politicians have committed themselves to a strategy of “more Europe” that is too rapid to ease local anxieties, yet not rapid enough to create a real Europe-wide political community. They have stuck for far too long to an intermediate path that is unstable and beset by tensions.

By holding on to a vision of Europe that has proven unviable, Europe’s centrist elites have endangered the idea of a unified Europe itself.

The short-run and long-run remedies for the European crisis are not hard to discern in their broad outlines, and they are discussed below. Ultimately, Europe faces the same choice it always faced: it will either embark on political union or loosen the economic union. But the mismanagement of the crisis has made it very difficult to see how this eventual outcome can be produced amicably and with minimal economic and political damage to member countries.

Fads and Fashions in the Developing World

The last two decades have been good to developing countries. As the United States and Europe were reeling under financial crisis, austerity, and the populist backlash, developing economies led by China and India engineered historically unprecedented rates of economic growth and poverty alleviation. And for once, Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa, and South Asia could join the party alongside East Asia. But even at the height of the emerging markets hype, one could discern two dark clouds.

First, would today’s crop of low income economies be able to replicate the industrialization path that delivered rapid economic progress in Europe, America, and East Asia? And second, would they be able to develop the modern, liberal-democratic institutions that today’s advanced economies acquired in the previous century? I suggest that the answers to both of these questions may be negative.

On the political side, the concern is that building and sustaining liberal democratic regimes has very special pre-requisites. The crux of the difficulty is that the beneficiaries of liberal democracy, unlike in the case of electoral democracies or dictatorships, typically have neither numbers nor resources on their side. Perhaps we should not be surprised that even advanced countries are having difficulty these days living up to liberal democratic norms. The natural tendency for countries without long and deep liberal traditions is to slide into authoritarianism. This has negative consequences not just for political development but economic development as well.

The growth challenge compounds the democracy challenge. One of the most important economic phenomena of our time is a process I have called “premature deindustrialization.” Partly because of automation in manufacturing and partly because of globalization, low income countries are running out of industrialization opportunities much sooner than their earlier counterparts in East Asia did. This would not be a tragedy if manufacturing was not traditionally a powerful growth engine, for reasons I discuss below.

With hindsight, it has become clear that there was in fact no coherent growth story for most emerging markets. Unlike China, Vietnam, South Korea, Taiwan, and a few other manufacturing miracles, the recent crop of growth champions did not build many modern, export-oriented industries. Scratch the surface, and you find high growth rates driven not by productive transformation but by domestic demand, in turn fueled by temporary commodity booms and unsustainable levels of public or, more often, private borrowing. Yes, there are plenty of world-class firms in emerging markets, and the expansion of the middle class is unmistakable. But only a tiny share of these economies’ labor is employed in productive enterprises, while informal, unproductive firms absorb the rest.

Is liberal democracy doomed in developing economies, or might it be saved by giving it different forms than it took in today’s advanced economies? What kind of growth models are available to developing countries if industrialization has run out of steam? What are the implications of premature deindustrialization for labor markets and social inclusion? To overcome these novel future challenges, developing countries will need fresh, creative strategies that deploy the combined energies of both the private and public sectors.

No Time for Trade Fundamentalism

“One of the crucial challenges” of our era “is to maintain an open and expanding international trade system.” Unfortunately, “the liberal principles” of the world trade system “are under increasing attack.” “Protectionism has become increasingly prevalent.” “There is great danger that the system will break down or that it will collapse in a grim replay of the 1930s.”

You would be excused for thinking that these lines are culled from one of the recent outpourings of concern in the business and financial media about the current backlash against globalization. In fact, they were written thirty-six years ago, in 1981.

The problem then was stagflation in the advanced countries. And it was Japan, rather than China, that was the trade bogeyman, stalking, and taking over, global markets. The United States and Europe had responded by erecting trade barriers and imposing “voluntary export restrictions” on Japanese cars and steel. Talk about the creeping “new protectionism” was rife.

What took place subsequently would belie such pessimism about the trade regime. Instead of heading south, global trade exploded in the 1990s and 2000s, driven by the creation of the World Trade Organization, the proliferation of bilateral and regional trade and investment agreements, and the rise of China. A new age of globalization, in fact something more like hyperglobalization was launched.

In hindsight, the “new protectionism” of the 1980s was not a radical break with the past. It was more a case of regime maintenance than regime disruption, as the political scientist John Ruggie has written. The import “safeguards” and “voluntary” export restrictions (VERs) of the time were ad hoc, but they were necessary responses to the distributional and adjustment challenges posed by the emergence of new trade relationships.

The economists and trade specialists who cried wolf at the time were wrong. Had governments listened to their advice and not responded to their constituents, they would have possibly made things worse. What looked to contemporaries like damaging protectionism was in fact a way of letting off steam to prevent an excessive buildup of political pressure.

Are observers being similarly alarmist about today’s globalization backlash? The International Monetary Fund, among others, has recently warned that slow growth and populism might lead to an outbreak of protectionism. “It is vitally important to defend the prospects for increasing trade integration,” according to the IMF’s chief economist, Maurice Obstfeld.

So far, however, there are few signs that governments are moving decidedly away from an open economy. President Trump may yet cause trade havoc, but his bark has proved worse than his bite. The website globaltradealert.org maintains a database of protectionist measures and is a frequent source for claims of creeping protectionism. Click on its interactive map of protectionist measures, and you will see an explosion of fireworks, red circles all over the globe. It looks alarming until you click on liberalizing measures and discover a comparable number of green circles.

The difference this time is that populist political forces seem much more powerful and closer to winning elections, partly a response to the advanced stage of globalization achieved since the 1980s. Not so long ago, it would have been unimaginable to contemplate a British exit from the European Union, or a Republican president in the United States promising to renege on trade agreements, build a wall against Mexican immigrants, and punish companies that move offshore. The nation-state seems intent on reasserting itself.

But the lesson from the 1980s is that some reversal from hyperglobalization need not be a bad thing, as long as it serves to maintain a reasonably open world economy. In particular, we need to place the requirements of liberal democracy ahead of those of international trade and investment. Such a rebalancing would leave plenty of room for an open global economy; in fact, it would enable and sustain it.

What makes a populist like Donald Trump dangerous is not his specific proposals on trade. It is the nativist, illiberal platform on which he seems intent to govern. And it is as well the reality that his economic policies don’t add up to a coherent vision of how the United States and an open world economy can prosper side by side.

The critical challenge facing mainstream political parties in the advanced economies today is to devise such a vision, along with a narrative that steals the populists’ thunder. These center-right and center-left parties should not be asked to save hyperglobalization at all costs. Trade advocates should be understanding if they adopt unorthodox policies to buy political support.

We should look instead at whether their policies are driven by a desire for equity and social inclusion or by nativist and racist impulses, whether they want to enhance or weaken the rule of law and democratic deliberation, and whether they are trying to save the open world economy, albeit with different ground rules, rather than undermine it.

The populist revolts of 2016 will almost certainly put an end to the last few decades’ hectic deal making in trade. Though developing countries may pursue smaller trade agreements, the two major regional deals on the table, the Trans Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, were as good as dead immediately after the election of Donald Trump as US president.

We should not mourn their passing. We should instead have an honest, principled discussion on putting globalization and development on a new footing, cognizant of our new political and technological realities and placing the requirements of liberal democracy front and center.

Getting the Balance Right

The problem with hyperglobalization is not just that it is an unachievable pipe dream susceptible to backlash, after all, the nation-state remains the only game in town when it comes to providing the regulatory and legitimizing arrangements on which markets rely. The deeper objection is that our elites’ and technocrats’ obsession with hyperglobalization makes it more difficult to achieve legitimate economic and social objectives at home, economic prosperity, financial stability, and social inclusion.

The questions of our day are: How much globalization should we seek in trade and finance? Is there still a case for nation-states in an age where the transportation and communications revolutions have apparently spelled the death of geographic distance? How much sovereignty do states need to cede to international institutions? What do trade agreements really do, and how can we improve them? When does globalization undermine democracy? What do we owe, as citizens and states, to others across the border? How do we best carry out those responsibilities?

All of these questions require that we restore a sane, sensible balance between national and global governance. We need a pluralist world economy where nationstates retain sufficient autonomy to fashion their own social contracts and develop their own economic strategies. I will argue that the conventional picture of the world economy as a “global commons”, one in which we would be driven to economic ruin unless we all cooperate, is highly misleading. If our economic policies fail, they do so largely for domestic rather than international reasons. The best way in which nations can serve the global good in the economic sphere is by putting their own economic houses in order.

Global governance does remain crucial in those areas such as climate change where the provision of global public goods is essential. And global rules sometimes can help improve domestic economic policy, by enhancing democratic deliberation and decision-making. But, I will argue, democracy-enhancing global agreements would look very different than the globalization-enhancing deals that have marked our age.

We begin with an entity at the very core of our political and economic existence, but which has for decades been under attack: the nation-state.

Chapter Two

How Nations Work

In October 2016, British Prime Minister Theresa May shocked many when she disparaged the idea of global citizenship. “If you believe you’re a citizen of the world,” she said, “you’re a citizen of nowhere.” Her statement was met with derision and alarm in the financial media and among liberal commentators. “The most useful form of citizenship these days,” one analyst lectured her, “is one dedicated not only to the wellbeing of a Berkshire parish, say, but to the planet.” The Economist called it an “illiberal” turn. A scholar accused her of repudiating Enlightenment values and warned of “echoes of 1933” in her speech.

I know what a “global citizen” looks like: I make a perfect specimen myself. I grew up in one country, live in another, and carry the passports of both. I write on global economics, and my work takes me to far-flung places. I spend more time traveling in other countries than I do within either country that claims me as a citizen. Most of my close colleagues at work are similarly foreign-born. I devour international news, while my local paper remains unopened most weeks. In sports, I have no clue how my home teams are doing, but I am a devoted fan of a football team on the other side of the Atlantic.

And yet May’s statement strikes a chord. It contains an essential truth, the disregard of which says much about how we, the world’s financial, political, and technocratic elite, distanced ourselves from our compatriots and lost their trust.

Economists and mainstream politicians tend to view the backlash as a regrettable setback, fueled by populist and nativist politicians who managed to capitalize on the grievances of those who feel they have been left behind and deserted by the globalist elites. Nevertheless, today globalism is in retreat and the nation-state has shown that it is very much alive.

For years, an intellectual consensus on the declining relevance of the nation-state reigned supreme. All the craze was about global governance, the international rules and institutions needed to underpin the apparently irreversible tide of economic globalization and the rise of cosmopolitan sensibilities.

Global governance became the mantra of our era’s elite. The surge in cross-border flows of goods, services, capital, and information produced by technological innovation and market liberalization has made the world’s countries too interconnected, their argument went, for any country to be able to solve its economic problems on its own. We need global rules, global agreements, and global institutions. This claim is still so widely accepted today that challenging it may seem like arguing that the sun revolves around Earth.

To understand how we got to this point, let’s take a close look at the intellectual case against the nationstate and the arguments in favor of globalism in governance.

The Nation-State Under Fire

The nation-state is roundly viewed as an archaic construct that is at odds with twenty-first-century realities. The assault on the nation-state transcends traditional political divisions and is one of the few things that unite economic liberals and socialists. “How may the economic unity of Europe be guaranteed, while preserving complete freedom of cultural development to the peoples living there?” asked Leon Trotsky back in 1934. The answer was to get rid of the nation-state: “The solution to this question can be reached by completely liberating productive forces from the fetters imposed upon them by the national state.”

Trotsky’s answer sounds surprisingly modern in light of the eurozone’s current travails, it is one to which most neoclassical economists would subscribe. Many moral philosophers today join liberal economists in treating national borders as irrelevant, if not descriptively then certainly prescriptively. Here is Peter Singer:

If the group to which we must justify ourselves is the tribe, or the nation, then our morality is likely to be tribal, or nationalistic. If, however, the revolution in communications has created a global audience, then we might need to justify our behavior to the whole world. This change creates the material basis for a new ethic that will serve the interests of all those who live on this planet in a way that, despite much rhetoric, no previous ethic has done.

And Amartya Sen:

There is something of a tyranny of ideas in seeing the political divisions of states (primarily, national states) as being, in some way, fundamental, and in seeing them not only as practical constraints to be addressed, but as divisions of basic significance in ethics and political philosophy.

Sen and Singer think of national borders as a hindrance, a practical obstacle that can and should be overcome as the world becomes more interconnected through commerce and advances in communications. Meanwhile, economists deride the nation-state because it is the source of the transaction costs that block fuller global economic integration. This is so not just because governments impose import tariffs, capital controls, visas, and other restrictions at their borders, impeding the global circulation of goods, money, and people. More fundamentally, it is because the multiplicity of sovereigns creates jurisdictional discontinuities and associated transaction costs. Differences in currencies, legal regimes, and regulatory practices are today the chief obstacles to a unified global economy. As overt trade barriers have come down, the relative importance of such transaction costs has grown. Import tariffs now constitute a tiny fraction of total trade costs. James Anderson and Eric van Wincoop estimated these costs to be a whopping 170 percent (in ad valorem terms) for advanced countries, an order of magnitude higher than import tariffs themselves.

To an economist, this amount is equivalent to leaving $100 bills on the sidewalk. Remove the jurisdictional discontinuities, the argument goes, and the world economy would reap large gains from trade, similar to the multilateral tariff liberalization experienced over the postwar period. So, the global trade agenda has increasingly focused on efforts to harmonize regulatory regimes, everything from sanitary and phytosanitary standards to financial regulations. That is also why European nations felt it was important to move to a single currency to make their dream of a common market a reality. Economic integration requires repressing nation-states’ ability to issue their own money, set different regulations, and impose different legal standards.

The Continued Vitality of the Nation-State

The death of the nation-state has long been predicted. “The critical issue for every student of world order is the fate of the nation-state,” wrote political scientist Stanley Hoffman in 1966. Sovereignty at Bay was the title of Raymond Vernon’s 1971 classic. Both scholars would ultimately pour cold water on the passing of the nationstate, but their tone reflects a strong current of prevailing opinion. Whether it was the European Union (on which Hoffman focused) or the multinational enterprise (Vernon’s topic), the nation-state has been widely perceived as being overwhelmed by developments larger than it.

Yet the nation-state refuses to wither away. It has proved remarkably resilient and remains the main determinant of the global distribution of income, the primary locus of market-supporting institutions, and the chief repository of personal attachments and affiliations. Consider a few facts.

To test my students’ intuition about the determinants of global inequality, I ask them on the first day of class whether they would rather be rich in a poor country or poor in a rich country. I tell them to consider only their own consumption level and to think of rich and poor as referring to the top and bottom 5 percent of a country’s income distribution. A rich country, in turn, is one in the top 5 percent of the inter country distribution of per capita incomes, while a poor country is one in the bottom. Armed with this background, typically a majority of the students respond that they would rather be rich in a poor country.

They are in fact massively wrong. Defined the way I just did, the poor in a rich country are almost five times richer than the rich in a poor country. The optical illusion that leads the students astray is that the superrich with the BMWs and gated mansions they have seen in poor countries are a miniscule proportion of the population, significantly fewer than the top 5 percent on which I asked them to focus. By the time we consider the average of the top ventile as a whole, we have taken a huge leap down the income scale.

The students have just discovered a telling feature of the world economy: our economic fortunes are determined primarily by where (which country) we are born and only secondarily by our location on the income distribution scale. Or to put it in more technical but also more accurate terms, most global inequality is accounted for by inequality across rather than within nations. So much for globalization having revoked the relevance of national borders.

Second, consider the role of national identity. One may imagine that attachments to the nation-state have worn thin between the push of transnational affinities, on the one hand, and the pull of local connections, on the other hand. But this does not seem to be the case. National identity remains alive and well, even in some surprising corners of the world. And this was true even before the global financial crisis and the populist backlash that has unfolded since.

To observe the continued vitality of national identification, let us turn to the World Values Survey, which covers more than eighty thousand individuals in fifty-seven countries (http://www.worldvaluessurvey.org/). The respondents to the survey were asked a range of questions about the strength of their local, national, and global attachments. I measured the strength of national attachments by computing the percentages of respondents who “agreed” or “strongly agreed” with the statement “I see myself as a citizen of [country, nation].” I measured the strength of global attachments, in turn, by the percentages of respondents who “agreed” or “strongly agreed” with the statement “I see myself as a world citizen.” In each case, I subtracted these percentages from analogous percentages for “I see myself as a member of my local community” to provide for some kind of normalization. In other words, I measured national and global attachments relative to local attachments. I rely on the 2004-2008 round of the survey since it was carried out before the financial crises in Europe and the United States and isolates the results from the confounding effects of the economic downturn.

Figure 2.1 National, global, and EU citizenship (relative to attachment to local community). Percentages of respondents who “agree” or “strongly agree” with the statements “I see myself as a citizen of [country, nation]” and “I see myself as a worId citizen,” subtracted from analogous percentages for “I see myself as a member of my local community.” Source: D. Rodrik, “Who Needs the Nation State?” Economic Geography, 89(1), January 2013: 1-19.

Figure 2.1 shows the results for the entire global sample, as well as for the United States, the European Union, China, and India individually. What stands out is not so much that national identity is vastly stronger than identity as a “global citizen”, that much was predictable. The surprising finding is how it apparently exerts a stronger pull than membership in the local community, as can be observed in the positive percentages for normalized national identity. This tendency is true across the board and the strongest in the United States and India, two vast countries where we may have expected local attachments to be, if anything, stronger than attachment to the nation-state.

I find it also striking that European citizens feel so little attachment to the European Union. In fact, as Figure 2.1 shows, the idea of citizenship in the European Union seems as remote to Europeans as that of global citizenship, despite long decades of European integration and institution building.

It is not a surprise to find that global attachments have worn even thinner since 2008. Measures of world citizenship have gone down significantly in some of the European countries especially: from -18 percent to -29 percent in Germany and -12 percent to -22 percent in Spain. (These are comparisons between the 2010-2014 and 2004-2008 waves.)

One may object that such surveys obfuscate differences among subgroups within the general population.

We would expect mainly the young, the skilled, and the well educated to have been unhinged from their national mooring and to have become global in their outlook and attachments. As Figure 2.2 indicates, there are indeed differences among these groups that go in the predicted direction. But they are not as large as one may have thought and do not change the overall picture. Even among the young (less than twenty-five years old), those with a university education and professionals, national identity trumps local and, even more massive, global attachments.

Finally, any remaining doubts about the continued relevance of the nation-state must have been dispelled by the experience in the aftermath of the global financial crisis of 2008. It was domestic policy makers who had to step in to prevent an economic meltdown: it was national governments that bailed out banks, pumped liquidity, provided a fiscal stimulus, and wrote unemployment checks. As Bank of England chairman Mervyn King once memorably put it, banks are global in life and national in death.

Figure 2.2 Effect of socio-demographics. Percentages of respondents who “agree” or “strongly agree” with the statements “I see myself as a citizen of [country, nation]” and “I see myself as a world citizen,” subtracted from analogous percentages for “I see myself as a member of my local community.” Source: D. Rodrik, “Who Needs the Nation State?” Economic Geography, 89(1), January 2013: 1-19.

The International Monetary Fund and the newly upgraded Group of 20 were merely talking shops. In the eurozone, it was decisions taken in national capitals from Berlin to Athens that determined how the crisis would play out, not actions in Brussels (or Strasbourg). And it was national governments that ultimately took the blame for everything that went wrong, or the credit for the little that went right.

A Normative Case for the Nation-State

Historically, the nation-state has been closely associated with economic, social, and political progress. It curbed internecine violence, expanded networks of solidarity beyond local communities, spurred mass markets and industrialization, enabled the mobilization of human and financial resources, and fostered the spread of representative political institutions.

Civil wars and economic decline are the usual fate of today’s “failed states.” For residents of stable and prosperous countries, it is easy to overlook the role that the construction of the nation-state played in overcoming such challenges. The nation-state’s fall from intellectual grace is in part a consequence of its achievements.

But has the nation-state, as a territorially confined political entity, truly become a hindrance to the achievement of desirable economic and social outcomes in view of the globalization revolution? Or does the nation-state remain indispensable to the achievement of those goals? In other words, is it possible to construct a more principled defense of the nation-state, one that goes beyond stating that it exists and that it has not withered away?

Let me begin by clarifying my terminology. The nation-state evokes connotations of nationalism. The emphasis in my discussion will be not on the “nation” or “nationalism” part but on the “state” part. In particular, I am interested in the state as a spatially demarcated jurisdictional entity. From this perspective, I view the nation as a consequence of a state, rather than the other way around. As Abbe Sieyes, one of the theorists of the French revolution, put it: “What is a nation? A body of associates living under one common law and represented by the same legislature.” I am not concerned with debates over what a nation is, whether each nation should have its own state, or how many states there ought to be.

Instead, I want to develop a substantive argument for why robust nation-states are actually beneficial, especially to the world economy. I want to show that the multiplicity of nation-states adds rather than subtracts value. My starting point is that markets require rules and that global markets would require global rules. A truly borderless global economy, one in which economic activity is fully unmoored from its national base, would necessitate transnational rule-making institutions that match the global scale and scope of markets. But this would not be desirable, even if it were feasible. Market supporting rules are nonunique. Experimentation and competition among diverse institutional arrangements therefore remain desirable. Moreover, communities differ in their needs and preferences regarding institutional forms. And history and geography continue to limit the convergence in these needs and preferences.

So, I accept that nation-states are a source of disintegration for the global economy. My claim is that an attempt to transcend them would be counterproductive. It would get us neither a healthier world economy nor better rules.

My argument can be presented as a counterpoint to the typical globalist narrative, depicted graphically in the top half of Figure 2.3. In this narrative, economic globalization, spurred by the revolutions in transportation and communication technologies, breaks down the social and cultural barriers among people in different parts of the world and fosters a global community. It, in turn, enables the construction of a global political community, global governance, that underpins and further reinforces economic integration.

Figure 2.3 Alternative reinforcing dynamics Source: D. Rodrik, “Who Needs the Nation State?” Economic Geography, 89(1), January 2013: 1-19.

My alternative narrative (shown at the bottom of Figure 2.3) emphasizes a different dynamic, one that sustains a world that is politically divided and economically less than fully globalized. In this dynamic, preference heterogeneity and institutional nonuniqueness, along with geography, create a need for institutional diversity. Institutional diversity blocks full economic globalization. Incomplete economic integration, in turn, reinforces heterogeneity and the role of distance. When the forces of this second dynamic are sufficiently strong, as I will argue they are, operating by the rules of the first can get us only into trouble.

The Futile Pursuit of Hyperglobalization

Markets depend on nonmarket institutions because they are not self-creating, self-regulating, self-stabilizing, or self-legitimating. Anything that goes beyond a simple exchange among neighbors requires investments in transportation, communications, and logistics; enforcement of contracts, provision of information, and prevention of cheating; a stable and reliable medium of exchange; arrangements to bring distributional outcomes into conformity with social norms; and so on. Well-functioning, sustainable markets are backed by a wide range of institutions that provide the critical functions of regulation; redistribution, monetary and fiscal stability, and conflict management.

These institutional functions have so far been provided largely by the nation-state. Throughout the postwar period, this not only did not impede the development of global markets but it facilitated it in many ways. The guiding philosophy behind the Bretton Woods regime, which governed the world economy until the 1970s, was that nations, not only the advanced nations but also the newly independent ones, needed the policy space within which they could manage their economies and protect their social contracts.

Capital controls, restricting the free flow of finance between countries, were viewed as an inherent element of the global financial system. Trade liberalization remained limited to manufactured goods and to industrialized nations; when imports of textiles and clothing from low-cost countries threatened domestic social bargains by causing job losses in affected industries and regions, these, too, were carved out as special regimes.

Yet trade and investment flows grew by leaps and bounds, in no small part because the Bretton Woods recipe made for healthy domestic policy environments. In fact, economic globalization relied critically on the rules maintained by the major trading and financial centers. As John Agnew has emphasized, national monetary systems, central banks, and financial regulatory practices were the cornerstones of financial globalization. In trade, it was more the domestic political bargains than GATT rules that sustained the openness that came to prevail.

The nation-state was the enabler of globalization, but also the ultimate obstacle to its deepening. Combining globalization with healthy domestic polities relied on managing this tension well. Veer too much in the direction of globalization, as in the 1920s, and we would erode the institutions’ underpinning markets. Veer too much in the direction of the state, as in the 1930s, and we would forfeit the benefits of international commerce.

From the 1980s on, the ideological balance took a decisive shift in favor of markets and against governments. The result internationally was an all-out push for what I have called “hyperglobalization’”, the attempt to eliminate all transaction costs that hinder trade and capital flows. The World Trade Organization was the crowning achievement of this effort in the trade arena. Trade rules were new extended to services, agriculture, subsidies, intellectual property rights, sanitary and phytosanitary standards, and other types of what were previously considered to be domestic policies. In finance, freedom of capital mobility became the norm, rather than the exception, with regulators focusing on the global harmonization of financial regulations and standards. A majority of European Union members went the furthest by first reducing exchange-rate movements among themselves and ultimately adopting a single currency.

The upshot was that domestic governance mechanisms were weakened while their global counterparts remain incomplete. The flaws of the new approach became evident soon enough. One type of failure arose from pushing rule making onto supranational domains too far beyond the reach of political debate and control. This failure was exhibited in persistent complaints about the democratic deficit, lack of legitimacy, and loss of voice and accountability. These complaints became permanent fixtures attached to the World Trade Organization and Brussels institutions.

Where rule making remained domestic, another type of failure arose. Growing volumes of trade with countries at different levels of development and with highly dissimilar institutional arrangements exacerbated inequality and economic insecurity at home. What was even more destructive, the absence of institutions at the global level that have tamed domestic finance (a lender of last resort, deposit insurance, bankruptcy laws, and fiscal stabilizers) rendered global finance a source of instability and periodic crises of massive proportions. Domestic policies alone were inadequate to address the problems that extreme economic and financial openness created. Suitably enough, the countries that did the best in the new regime were those that did not let their enthusiasm for free trade and free flows of capital get the better of them.

China, which engineered history’s most impressive poverty reduction and growth outcomes, was, of course, a major beneficiary of others’ economic openness. But for its part, it followed a highly cautious strategy that combined extensive industrial policies with selective, delayed import liberalization and capital controls. Effectively, China played the globalization game by Bretton Woods rules rather than by hyperglobalization rules.

Is Global Governance Feasible or Desirable?

By now it is widely understood that globalization’s ills derive from the imbalance between the global nature of markets and the domestic nature of the rules that govern them. As a matter of logic, the imbalance can be corrected in only one of two ways: expand governance beyond the nation-state or restrict the reach of markets. In polite company, only the first option receives much attention.

Global governance means different things to different people. For policy officialdom, it refers to new intergovernmental forums, such as the Group of 20 and the Financial Stability Forum. For some analysts, it means the emergence of transnational networks of regulators setting common rules from sanitary to capital adequacy standards. For other analysts, it is “private governance” regimes, such as fair trade and corporate social responsibility. Yet others imagine the development of accountable global administrative processes that depend “on local debate, is informed by global comparisons, and works in a space of public reasons.” For many activists, it signifies greater power for international nongovernmental organizations.

It remains without saying that such emergent forms of global governance remain weak. But the real question is whether they can develop and become strong enough to sustain hyperglobalization and spur the emergence of truly global identities. I do not believe they can.

I develop my argument in four steps: (1) market-supporting institutions are not unique, (2) communities differ in their needs and preferences regarding institutional forms, (3) geographic distance limits the convergence in those needs and preferences, and (4) experimentation and competition among diverse institutional forms is desirable.

Market-supporting Institutions Are Not Unique

It is relatively straightforward to specify the functions that market-supporting institutions serve, as I did previously. They create, regulate, stabilize, and legitimate markets. But specifying the form that institutions should take is another matter altogether. There is no reason to believe that these functions can be provided only in specific ways or to think that there is only a limited range of plausible variation. In other words, institutional function does not map uniquely into form.

All advanced societies are some variant of a market economy with dominantly private ownership. But the United States, Japan, and the European nations have evolved historically under institutional setups that differ significantly. These differences are revealed in divergent practices in labor markets, corporate governance, social welfare systems, and approaches to regulation. That these nations have managed to generate comparable amounts of wealth under different rules is an important reminder that there is not a single blueprint for economic success. Yes, markets, incentives, property rights, stability, and predictability are important. But they do not require cookie-cutter solutions.

Economic performance fluctuates, even among advanced countries, so institutional fads are common. In recent decades, European social democracy, Japanese style industrial policy, the US model of corporate governance and finance, and Chinese state capitalism have periodically come into fashion, only to recede from attention once their stars faded. Despite efforts by international organizations, such as the World Bank and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), to develop “best practices,” institutional emulation rarely succeeds.

One reason is that elements of the institutional landscape tend to have a complementary relationship to each other, dooming partial reform to failure. For example, in the absence of labor market training programs and adequate safety nets, deregulating labor markets by making it easier for firms to fire their workers can easily backfire. Without a tradition of strong stakeholders that restrain risk taking, allowing financial firms to selfregulate can be a disaster. In their well known book Varieties of Capitalism, Peter Hall and David Soskice identified two distinct institutional clusters among advanced industrial economies, which they called “liberal market economies” and “coordinated market economies.”We can certainly identify additional models as well if we turn to Asia.

The more fundamental point has to do with the inherent malleability of institutional designs. As Roberto Unger has emphasized, there is no reason to think that the range of institutional divergence we observe in the world today exhausts all feasible variation. Desired institutional functions, aligning private incentives with social optimality, establishing macrostability, achieving social justice, can be generated in innumerable ways, limited only by our imagination.

The idea that there is a best-practice set of institutions is an illusion.

This is not to say that differences in institutional arrangements do not have real consequences. Institutional malleability does not mean that institutions always perform adequately: there are plenty of societies whose institutions patently fail to provide for adequate incentives for production, investment, and innovation, not to mention social justice. But even among relatively successful societies, different institutional configurations often have varying implications for distinct groups. Compared to coordinated market economies, liberal market economies, for example, present better opportunities for the most creative and successful members of society, but also tend to produce greater inequality and economic insecurity for their working classes. Richard Freeman has shown that more highly regulated labor market environments produce less dispersion in earnings but not necessarily higher rates of unemployment.

There is an interesting analogy here to the second fundamental theorem of welfare economics. The theorem states that any Pareto-efficient equilibrium can be obtained as the outcome of a competitive equilibrium with an appropriate distribution of endowments. Institutional arrangements are, in effect, the rules that determine the allocation of rights to a society’s resources; they shape the distribution of endowments in the broadest term. Each Pareto-efficient outcome can be sustained by a different set of rules. And conversely, each set of rules has the potential to generate a different Pareto-efficient outcome. (I say potential because “bad” rules will clearly result in Pareto-inferior outcomes.)

It is not clear how we can choose ex ante among Pareto-efficient equilibria. It is precisely this indeterminacy that makes the choice among alternative institutions a difficult one, best left to political communities themselves.

Heterogeneity and Diversity

Immanuel Kant wrote that religion and language divide people and prevent a universal monarchy. But there are many other things that divide us. As I discussed in the previous section, institutional arrangements have distinct implications for the distribution of well-being and many other features of economic, social, and political life.

We do not agree on how to trade equality against opportunity, economic security against innovation, stability against dynamism, economic outcomes against social and cultural values, and many other consequences of institutional choice. Differences in preferences are ultimately the chief argument against institutional harmonization globally.

Consider how financial markets should be regulated. There are many choices to be made. Should commercial banking be separated from investment banking? Should there be a limit on the size of banks? Should there be deposit insurance, and, if so, what should it cover? Should banks be allowed to trade on their own account? How much information should they reveal about their trades? Should executives’ compensation be set by directors, with no regulatory controls? What should the capital and liquidity requirements be? Should all derivative contracts be traded on exchanges? What should be the role of credit-rating agencies? And so on.

A central trade-off here is between financial innovation and financial stability. A light approach to regulation will maximize the scope for financial innovation (the development of new financial products), but at the cost of increasing the likelihood of financial crises and crashes. Strong regulation will reduce the incidence and costs of crises, but potentially at the cost of raising the cost of finance and excluding many from its benefits. There is no single ideal point along this trade-off. Requiring that communities whose preferences over the innovation-stability continuum vary all settle on the same solution may have the virtue that it reduces transaction costs in finance. But it would come at the cost of imposing arrangements that are out of sync with local preferences. This is the conundrum that financial regulation faces at the moment, with banks pushing for common global rules and domestic legislatures and policy makers resisting.

Here is another example from food regulation. In a controversial 1998 case, the World Trade Organization sided with the United States in ruling that the European Union’s ban on beef reared on certain growth hormones violated the Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Standards (SP8). It is interesting that the ban did not discriminate against imports and applied to imported and domestic beef alike. There did not seem to be a protectionist motive behind the ban, which had been pushed by consumer lobbies in Europe that were alarmed by the potential health threats. Nonetheless, the World Trade Organization judged that the ban violated the requirement in the SPS agreement that policies be based on “scientific evidence.” (In a similar case in 2006, the World Trade Organization also ruled against the European Union’s restrictions on genetically modified food and seeds [GMOs], finding fault once again with the adequacy of the European Union’s scientific risk assessment.)

There is indeed scant evidence to date that growth hormones pose any health threats. The European Union argued that it had applied a broader principle not explicitly covered by the World Trade Organization, the “precautionary principle,” which permits greater caution in the presence of scientific uncertainty. The precautionary principle reverses the burden of proof. Instead of asking, “Is there reasonable evidence that growth hormones, or GMOs, have adverse effects?” it requires policy makers to ask, “Are we reasonably sure that they do not?” In many unsettled areas of scientific knowledge, the answer to both questions can be no. Whether the precautionary principle makes sense depends both on the degree of risk aversion and on the extent to which potential adverse effects are large and irreversible.

As the European Commission argued (unsuccessfully), regulatory decisions here cannot be made purely on the basis of science. Politics, which aggregates a society’s risk preferences, must play the determining role. It is reasonable to expect that the outcome will vary across societies. Some (like the United States) may go for low prices; others (like the European Union) will go for greater safety.

The suitability of institutional arrangements also depends on levels of development and historical trajectory.

Alexander Gerschenkron famously argued that lagging countries would need institutions, such as large banks and state-directed investments, that differed from those present in the original industrializers. To a large extent, his arguments have been validated. But even among rapidly growing developing nations, there is considerable institutional variation. What works in one place rarely does in another.

Consider how some of the most successful developing nations joined the world economy. South Korea and Taiwan relied heavily on export subsidies to push their firms outward during the 1960s and 1970s and liberalized their import regime only gradually. China established special economic zones in which export-oriented firms were allowed to operate under different rules than those applied to state enterprises and to others focused on the internal market. Chile, by contrast, followed the textbook model and sharply reduced import barriers to force domestic firms to compete with foreign firms directly in the home market. The Chilean strategy would have been a disaster if applied in China, because it would have led to millions of job losses in state enterprises and incalculable social consequences. And the Chinese model would not have worked as well in Chile, a small nation that is not an obvious destination for multinational enterprises.

Alberto Alesina and Enrico Spolaore have explored how heterogeneity in preferences interacts with the benefits of scale to determine endogenously the number and size of nations. In their basic model, individuals differ in their preferences over the type of public goods, or, in my terms, the specific institutional arrangements provided by the state? The larger the population over which the public good is provided, the lower the unit cost of provision. On the other hand, the larger the population, the greater the number of people who find their preferences ill served by the specific public good that is provided. Smaller countries are better able to respond to their citizens’ needs. The optimum number of jurisdictions, or nation-states, trades off the scale benefits of size against the heterogeneity costs of the provision of public good.

The important analytical insight of the Alesina-Spolaore model is that it makes little sense to optimize along the market-size dimension (and eliminate jurisdictional discontinuities) when there is heterogeneity in preferences along the institutional dimension. The framework does not tell us whether we have too many nations at present or too few. But it does suggest that a divided world polity is the price we pay for institutional arrangements that are, in principle at least, better tailored to local preferences and needs.

Distance Lives: The Limits to Convergence

We need to consider an important caveat to the discussion on heterogeneity, namely, the endogenous nature of many of the differences that set communities apart. That culture, religion, and language are in part a side product of nation-states is an old theme that runs through the long trail of the literature on nationalism. From Ernest Renan down, theorists of nationalism have stressed that cultural differences are not innate and can be shaped by state policies. Education, in particular, is a chief vehicle through which national identity is molded. Ethnicity has a certain degree of exogeneity, but its salience in defining identity is also a function of the strength of the nation-state. A resident of Turkey who defines himself as Muslim is potentially a member of a global community, whereas a “Turk” owes primary loyalty to the Turkish state.

Much the same can be said about other characteristics along which communities differ. If poor countries have distinctive institutional needs arising from their low levels of income, we may perhaps expect these distinctions to disappear as income levels converge. If societies have different preferences over risk, stability, equity, and so on, we may similarly expect these differences to narrow as a result of greater communication and economic exchange across jurisdictional boundaries. Today’s differences may exaggerate tomorrow’s differences. In a world where people are freed from their local moorings, they are also freed from their local idiosyncrasies and biases. Individual heterogeneity may continue to exist, but it need not be correlated across geographic space.

There is some truth to these arguments, but they are also counterweighed by a considerable body of evidence that suggests that geographic distance continues to produce significant localization effects despite the evident decline in transportation and communication costs and other man-made barriers. One of the most striking studies in this vein was by Anne-Celia Disdier and Keith Head, which looked at the effect of distance on international trade over the span of history. It is a stylized fact of the empirical trade literature that the volume of bilateral trade declines with the geographic distance between trade partners. The typical distance elasticity is around 1.0, meaning that trade falls by 10 percent for every 10 percent increase in distance. This is a fairly large effect. Presumably, what lies behind it is not just transportation and communication costs but the lack of familiarity and cultural differences. (Linguistic differences are often controlled for separately.)

Disdier and Head undertook a meta-analysis, collecting 1,467 distance effects from 103 papers covering trade flows at different points in time, and stumbled on a surprising result: distance matters more now than it did in the late nineteenth century. The distance effect seems to have increased from the 1960s, remaining persistently high since then (see Figure 2.4). If anything, globalization seems to have raised the penalty that geographic distance imposes on economic exchange. This apparent paradox was also confirmed by Matias Berthelon and Caroline Freund, who found an increase in the (absolute value) of the distance elasticity from -1 .7 to -1.9 between 1985 and 1989 and between 2001 and 2005 using a consistent trade data set. Berthelon and Freund showed that the result was not due to a compositional switch from low-to high-elasticity goods but to “a significant and increasing impact of distance on trade in almost 40 percent of industries.”

Figure 2.4 Estimated distance effect (H) over time. Source: Disdier, A.-C., and Head, K. 2008. “The Puzzling Persistence of the Distance Effect on Bilateral Trade,” The Review of Economics and Statistics 90(1): 37-48. With permission from MIT Press Journals.

Leaving this puzzle aside for the moment, let us turn to an altogether different type of evidence. In the mid-1990s a new housing development in one of the suburbs of Toronto engaged in an interesting experiment. The houses were built from the ground up with the latest broadband telecommunications infrastructure and came with a host of new Internet technologies. Residents of Netville (a pseudonym) had access to high-speed lnternet, a videophone, an online jukebox, online health services, discussion forums, and a suite of entertainment and educational applications. These new technologies made the town an ideal setting for nurturing global citizens. The people of Netville were freed from the tyranny of distance. They could communicate with anyone in the world as easily as they could with a neighbor, forge their own global links, and join virtual communities in cyberspace. One might expect they would begin to define their identities and interests increasingly in global, rather than in local, terms.

What actually transpired was quite different. Glitches experienced by the telecom provider left some homes without a link to the broadband network. This situation allowed researchers to compare wired and nonwired households and reach some conclusions about the consequences of being wired. Far from letting local links erode, wired people actually strengthened their existing local social ties. Compared to nonwired residents, they recognized more of their neighbors, talked to them more often, visited them more frequently, and made many more local phone calls. They were more likely to organize local events and mobilize the community around common problems. They used their computer network to facilitate a range of social activities, from organizing barbecues to helping local children with their homework.

Netville exhibited, as one resident put it, “a closeness that you don’t see in many communities.” What was supposed to have unleashed global engagement and networks had instead strengthened local social ties.

There are plenty of other examples that belie the death of distance. One study identified strong “gravity” effects on the Internet: “Americans are more likely to visit websites from nearby countries, even controlling for language, income, immigrant stock, etc.” For digital products related to music, games, and pornography, a 10 percent increase in physical distance reduces the probability that an American will visit the website by 33 percent, a distance elasticity even higher (in absolute value) than for trade in goods.

Despite the evident reduction in transportation and communication costs, the production location of globally traded products is often determined by regional agglomeration effects. When the New York Times recently examined why Apple’s iPhone is manufactured in China, rather than in the United States, the answer turned out to have little to do with comparative advantage. China had already developed a massive network of suppliers, engineers, and dedicated workers in a complex known informally as Foxconn City that provided Apple with benefits that the United States could not match.

More broadly, incomes and productivity do not always exhibit a tendency to converge as markets for goods, capital, and technology become more integrated. The world economy’s first era of globalization produced a large divergence in incomes between the industrializing countries at the center and lagging regions in the periphery that specialized in primary commodities. Similarly, economic convergence has been the exception rather than the rule in the postwar period.

Economic development depends perhaps more than ever on what happens at home. If the world economy exerts a homogenizing influence, it is at best a partial one, competing with many other influences that go the other way.

Relationships based on proximity are one such offsetting influence. Many, if not most, exchanges are based on relationships, rather than textbook style anonymous markets. Geographic distance protects relationships. As Ed Learner put it, “geography, whether physical or cultural or informational, limits competition since it creates cost-advantaged relationships between sellers and buyers who are located ‘close’ to one another.” But relationships also create a role for geography. Once relationship-specific investments are made, geography becomes more important. The iPhone could have been produced anywhere, but once relationships with local suppliers were established, there are lock-in effects that make it difficult for Apple to move anywhere else.

Technological progress has an ambiguous effect on the importance of relationships. On the one hand, the decline in transportation and communication costs reduces the protective effect of distance in market relationships. It may facilitate the creation of long-distance relationships that cross national boundaries. On the other hand, the increase in complexity and product differentiation, along with the shift from Fordist mass production to new, distributed modes of learning, increases the relative importance of spatially circumscribed relationships. The new economy runs on tacit knowledge, trust, and cooperation, which still depend on personal contact. As Kevin Morgan put it, spatial reach does not equal “social depth.”

Hence, market segmentation is a natural feature of economic life, even in the absence of jurisdictional discontinuities. Neither economic convergence nor preference homogenization is the inevitable consequence of globalization.

Experimentation and Competition

Finally, since there is no fixed, ideal shape for institutions and diversity is the rule rather than exception, a divided global polity presents an additional advantage. It enables experimentation, competition among institutional forms, and learning from others. To be sure, trial and error can be costly when it comes to society’s rules. Still, institutional diversity among nations is as close as we can expect to a laboratory in real life. Josiah Ober has discussed how competition among Greek city-states during 800-300 BCE fostered institutional innovation in areas of citizenship, law, and democracy, sustaining the relative prosperity of ancient Greece.

There can be nasty sides to institutional competition. One of them is the nineteenth-century idea of a Darwinian competition among states, whereby wars are the struggle through which we get progress and seIf-realization of humanity. The equally silly, if less bloody, modern counterpart of this idea is the notion of economic competition among nations, whereby global commerce is seen as a zero-sum game.

Both ideas are based on the belief that the point of competition is to lead us to the one perfect model. But competition works in diverse ways. In economic models of “monopolistic competition,” producers compete not just on price but on variety, by differentiating their products from others’.

Similarly, national jurisdictions can compete by offering institutional “services” that are differentiated along the dimensions I discussed earlier.

One persistent worry is that institutional competition sets off a race to the bottom. To attract mobile resources, capital, multinational enterprises, and skilled professionals, jurisdictions may lower their standards and relax their regulations in a futile dynamic to outdo other jurisdictions. Once again, this argument overlooks the multidimensional nature of institutional arrangements. Tougher regulations or standards are presumably put in place to achieve certain objectives: they offer compensating benefits elsewhere. We may all wish to be free to drive at any speed we want, but few of us would move to a country with no speed limit at all where, as a result, deadly traffic accidents would be much more common. Similarly, higher labor standards may lead to happier and more productive workers; tougher financial regulation to greater financial stability; and higher taxes to better public services, such as schools, infrastructure, parks, and other amenities. Institutional competition can foster a race to the top.

The only area in which some kind of race to the bottom has been documented is corporate taxation. Tax competition has played an important role in the remarkable reduction in corporate taxes around the world since the early 1980s. In a study on OECD countries, researchers found that when other countries reduce their average statutory corporate tax rate by 1 percentage point, the home country follows by reducing its tax rate by 0.7 percentage points. The study indicated that international tax competition takes place only among countries that have removed their capital controls. When such controls are in place, capital and profits cannot move as easily across national borders and there is no downward pressure on capital taxes. So, the removal of capital controls appears to be a factor in driving the reduction in corporate tax rates.

On the other hand, there is scant evidence of similar races to the bottom in labor and environmental standards or in financial regulation. The geographically confined nature of the services (or public goods) offered by national jurisdictions often presents a natural restraint on the drive toward the bottom. If you want to partake of those services, you need to be in that jurisdiction. But corporate tax competition is also a reminder that the costs and benefits need not always neatly cancel each other. Although it is not a perfect substitute for local sourcing, international trade does allow a company to serve a high-tax market from a low-tax jurisdiction. The problem becomes particularly acute when the arrangement in question has a “solidarity” motive and is explicitly redistributive (as in many tax examples). In such cases, it becomes desirable to prevent “regulatory arbitrage” even if it means tightening controls at the border.

What Do Global Citizens Do?

Let’s circle back to Teresa May’s comments at the beginning of this chapter. What does it even mean to be a “global citizen”? The Oxford English Dictionary defines “citizen” as “a legally recognized subject or national of a state or commonwealth.” Hence, citizenship presumes an established polity, “a state or commonwealth”, of which one is a member. Countries have such polities; the world does not.

Proponents of global citizenship quickly concede that they do not have a literal meaning in mind. They are thinking figuratively. Technological revolutions in communications and economic globalization have brought citizens of different countries together, they argue. The world has shrunk, and we must act bearing the global implications in mind. And besides, we all carry multiple, overlapping identities. Global citizenship does not, and need not, crowd out parochial or national responsibilities.

All well and good. But what do global citizens really do?

Real citizenship entails interacting and deliberating with other citizens in a shared political community. It means holding decision makers to account and participating in politics to shape the policy outcomes. In the process, my ideas about desirable ends and means are confronted with and tested against those of my fellow citizens.

Global citizens do not have similar rights or responsibilities. No one is accountable to them, and there is no one to whom they must justify themselves. At best, they form communities with like-minded individuals from other countries. Their counterparts are not citizens everywhere but self-designated “global citizens” in other countries.

Of course, global citizens have access to their domestic political systems to push their ideas through. But political representatives are elected to advance the interests of the people who put them in office. National governments are meant to look out for national interests, and rightly so. This does not exclude the possibility that constituents might act with enlightened self-interest, by taking into account the consequences of domestic action for others.

But what happens when the welfare of local residents comes into conflict with the wellbeing of foreigners as it often does? Isn’t disregard of their compatriots in such situations precisely what gives so-called cosmopolitan elites their bad name?

Global citizens worry that the interests of the global commons may be harmed when each government pursues its own narrow interest. This is certainly a concern with issues that truly concern the global commons, such as climate change or pandemics. But in most economic areas, taxes, trade policy, financial stability, fiscal and monetary management, what makes sense from a global perspective also makes sense from a domestic perspective. Economics teaches that countries should maintain open economic borders, sound prudential regulation, and full-employment policies, not because these are good for other countries but because they serve to enlarge the domestic economic pie.

Of course, policy failures, for example, protectionism, do occur in all of these areas. But these reflect poor domestic governance, not a lack of cosmopolitanism. They result either from policy elites’ inability to convince domestic constituencies of the benefits of the alternative, or from their unwillingness to make adjustments to ensure that everyone does indeed benefit.

Hiding behind cosmopolitanism in such instances when pushing for trade agreements, for example, is a poor substitute for winning policy battles on their merits. And it devalues the currency of cosmopolitanism when we truly need it, as we do in the fight against global warming.

Few have expounded on the tension between our various identities, local, national, global, as insightfully as the philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah. In this age of “planetary challenges and interconnection between countries,” he wrote in response to May’s statement, “the need has never been greater for a sense of a shared human fate.” It is hard to disagree.

Yet cosmopolitans often come across like the character from Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov who discovers that the more he loves humanity in general, the less he loves people in particular. Global citizens should be wary that their lofty goals do not turn into an excuse for shirking their duties toward their compatriots.

We have to live in the world we have, with all its political divisions, and not the world we wish we had. The best way to serve global interests is to live up to our responsibilities within the political institutions that matter: those that exist, within national borders.

Who Needs the Nation-State?

The design of institutions is shaped by a fundamental trade-off. On the one hand, relationships and preference heterogeneity push governance down. On the other hand, the scale and scope of the benefits of market integration push governance up. A corner solution is rarely optimal. An intermediate outcome, a world divided into diverse polities, is the best that we can do.

Our failure to internalize the lessons of this simple point leads us to pursue dead ends. We push markets beyond what their governance can support. We set global rules that defy the underlying diversity in needs and preferences. We downgrade the nation-state without compensating improvements in governance elsewhere. The failure lies at the heart of globalization’s unaddressed ills as well as the decline in our democracies’ health.

Who needs the nation-state? We all do.

Chapter 3

Europe’s Struggles

The eurozone was an unprecedented experiment. Its members tried to construct a single, unified market, in goods, services, and money, while political authority remained vested in the constituting national units. There would be one market, but many polities.

The closest historical parallel was that of the Gold Standard. Under the Gold Standard, countries effectively subordinated their economic policies to a fixed parity against gold and the requirements of free capital mobility. Monetary policy consisted of ensuring the parity was not endangered. Since there was no conception of countercyclical fiscal policy or the welfare state, the loss of policy autonomy that these arrangements entailed had little political cost. Or so it seemed at the time. Starting with Britain in 1931, the Gold Standard would eventually unravel precisely because the high interest rates required to maintain the gold parity became politically unsustainable in view of domestic unemployment.

The postwar arrangements that were erected on the ashes of the gold standard were consciously designed to facilitate economic management by national political authorities. John Maynard Keynes’s signal contribution to saving capitalism was recognizing that it required national economic management. Capitalism worked only . . .



Straight Talk on Trade. Ideas for a Sane World Economy

by Dani Rodrik

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