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Notable readings of the day 01/31/2014

January 31, 2014
  • tags: WWII historiography

    • You write that Hitler’s war aims were impossible—how so?
       The Germans were trying to win a straightforward conventional war and, at the same time, trying to fight an ideological war: a specifically Nazi war as opposed to a German war. I believe that a true German nationalist—Otto von Bismarck, say, or Helmuth von Moltke—could have won the Second World War, because he wouldn’t have made the kind of demands of the German military that Hitler did, which was to win a two-front conventional war while at the same time imposing the policies of the “Aryan master race.” Those aims were directly in opposition.
    • Could the Nazis have won, had they done something differently?
       Absolutely. If they had not invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, and if they had instead thrown at the Allies even a fraction of the 3 million men they eventually unleashed against Russia, they would have chased us out of the Middle East and cut off access to 80 percent of the Allies’ oil. We simply would not have been able to continue the struggle.
    • Was Hitler solely responsible for Germany’s military blunders?
       No, there were plenty of people to blame. Luftwaffe chief Hermann Göring is a perfect example: He promised Hitler that no Allied bombs would fall on Germany; he promised to destroy the British Expeditionary Force at Dunkirk solely through airpower; he promised to completely supply the German forces at Stalingrad by air. Yet he could not deliver on any of these promises.
    • In the end, all of these poor military leaders were appointed or promoted by Hitler, many solely because they were Nazis, and that’s no way to fight—or win—a war.
    • The Germans saw the Japanese as adjuncts to the greater effort they were putting in. The Japanese never trusted the Germans; they didn’t even tell Berlin they were going to attack Pearl Harbor. Neither country put in the diplomatic work required to really coordinate their efforts. Essentially, the Second World War was two separate conflicts fought simultaneously.
    • Who were the most effective combat generals of the war?
       The Russian Georgy Zhukov, because he was given every impossible task and succeeded at all of them. For Germany, Erich von Manstein, who came up with the “sickle cut” maneuver that in May 1940 defeated France and was the most effective German general on the Eastern Front.
    • The major problem with the historiography of World War II is the Cold War—it was not in the West’s postwar interest to acknowledge that it was the Russians who destroyed the Wehrmacht, at an unbelievable cost to themselves. We are just now beginning to acknowledge the Soviet Union’s contribution.
    • Statistically, the Eastern Front was where the war was won—out of every five Germans killed in battlefield combat, four died on the Eastern Front
  • tags: neanderthal human origins

    • two new studies have traced the history of Neanderthal DNA, and have pinpointed a number of genes that may have medical importance today.
    • Among the findings, the studies have found clues to the evolution of skin and fertility, as well as susceptibility to diseases like diabetes. More broadly, they show how the legacy of Neanderthals has endured 30,000 years after their extinction.
    • Both studies suggest that Neanderthal genes involved in skin and hair were favored by natural selection in humans. Today, they are very common in living non-Africans.
    • It is possible, Dr. Akey speculated, that the genes developed to help Neanderthal skin adapt to the cold climate of Europe and Asia.
    • Both teams of scientists also found long stretches of the living human genomes where Neanderthal DNA was glaringly absent. This pattern could be produced if modern humans with certain Neanderthal genes could not have as many children on average as people without them. For example, living humans have very few genes from Neanderthals involved in making sperm. That suggests that male human-Neanderthal hybrids might have had lower fertility or were even sterile.
    • Overall, said Dr. Reich, “most of the Neanderthal genetic material was more bad than good.”
  • tags: capitalism inequality entrepreneur unemployment history Marx economics

    • Thomas Piketty’s new book, “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” described by one French newspaper as a “a political and theoretical bulldozer,” defies left and right orthodoxy by arguing that worsening inequality is an inevitable outcome of free market capitalism.
    • He contends that capitalism’s inherent dynamic propels powerful forces that threaten democratic societies.
    • Capitalism, according to Piketty, confronts both modern and modernizing countries with a dilemma: entrepreneurs become increasingly dominant over those who own only their own labor
    • in the long run, “when pay setters set their own pay, there’s no limit,” unless “confiscatory tax rates” are imposed.
    • suggests that traditional liberal government policies on spending, taxation and regulation will fail to diminish inequality.
    • Conservative readers will find that Piketty’s book disputes the view that the free market, liberated from the distorting effects of government intervention, “distributes,” as Milton Friedman famously put it, “the fruits of economic progress among all people.
    • Piketty proposes instead that the rise in inequality reflects markets working precisely as they should: “This has nothing to do with a market imperfection: the more perfect the capital market, the higher” the rate of return on capital is in comparison to the rate of growth of the economy. The higher this ratio is, the greater inequality is.
    • we are in the presence of one of the watershed books in economic thinking.”
    • There are a number of key arguments in Piketty’s book.
    • One is that the six-decade period of growing equality in western nations – starting roughly with the onset of World War I and extending into the early 1970s – was unique and highly unlikely to be repeated. That period, Piketty suggests, represented an exception to the more deeply rooted pattern of growing inequality.
    • According to Piketty, those halcyon six decades were the result of two world wars and the Great Depression. The owners of capital – those at the top of the pyramid of wealth and income – absorbed a series of devastating blows. These included the loss of credibility and authority as markets crashed; physical destruction of capital throughout Europe in both World War I and World War II; the raising of tax rates, especially on high incomes, to finance the wars; high rates of inflation that eroded the assets of creditors; the nationalization of major industries in both England and France;
    • The six decades between 1914 and 1973 stand out from the past and future, according to Piketty, because the rate of economic growth exceeded the after-tax rate of return on capital. Since then, the rate of growth of the economy has declined, while the return on capital is rising to its pre-World War I levels.
    • “If the rate of return on capital remains permanently above the rate of growth of the economy – this is Piketty’s key inequality relationship,” Milanovic writes in his review, it “generates a changing functional distribution of income in favor of capital and, if capital incomes are more concentrated than incomes from labor (a rather uncontroversial fact), personal income distribution will also get more unequal — which indeed is what we have witnessed in the past 30 years.”
    • The Piketty diagnosis helps explain the recent drop in the share of national income going to labor (see Figure 2) and a parallel increase in the share going to capital.
    • Piketty’s analysis also sheds light on the worldwide growth in the number of the unemployed. The International Labor Organization, an agency of the United Nations, reported recently that the number of unemployed grew by 5 million from 2012 to 2013, reaching nearly 202 million by the end of last year. It is projected to grow to 215 million by 2018.
    • Piketty’s wealth tax solution runs directly counter to the principles of contemporary American conservatives who advocate antithetical public policies: cutting top rates and eliminating the estate tax.
  • tags: online journalism

    • “It’s a generational changing of the guard happening with greater speed than at any time before,” he wrote. “Afternoon and morning newspapers, TV and cable network news shows, monthly and weekly newsmagazines all had times when they reigned supreme. These days the reigns are briefer than ever because the march of technology has quickened to a trot.”
    • This is not a bubble,” he told me. “There are fundamental secular trends behind it — ad growth, mobile growth, page-view growth — that suggest the large media companies of tomorrow are being created right in front of us, right now.”

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

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