Saturday, April 26, 2008

Two Reading Tips: Money and China

National Geographic Magazine is probably one of the most overlooked publications in the U.S. This month's (April 2008) issue focuses on China and is absolutely fantastic. In addition to the articles and pictures, there is a detailed map of modern-day China.

I also read a newer publication, Lapham's Quarterly, Vol 1, No. 2, titled, About Money. All of the articles in the Spring volume's journal are about--you guessed it--money. There are too many interesting tidbits to quote everything, but the writers include everyone from Alexis de Tocqueville to Orson Welles. I especially enjoyed the Benjamin Franklin and Jim Cramer pieces. Here are some quotes from the journal:

Thomas Jefferson: "Money, not morality, is the principle of commercial nations."

Roger Starr: "It is not the accumulation of money which is vicious, but overconsumption...[the very poor] are "dehumanized because his relative poverty deprives him of the human responsibility of choice."

Henry Ford(!): "The automobile business was not on what I would call an honest basis, to say nothing of being, from a manufacturing standpoint, on a scientific basis, but it was no worse than business in general." "How much gasoline it [a car] used was of no great moment..." (In 1922, oil was around $3.50 a barrel)

James Boswell: "In civilized society, personal merit will not serve you so much as money will. Sir, you may make the experiment. Go into the street, and give one man a lecture on morality, and another a shilling, and see which one will respect you the most."

Tocqueville: "What grips the heart most powerfully is not the peaceful possession of a precious object but the imperfectly satisfied desire to possess it and the constant fear of losing it."

Elias Cannetti: "What is that happens in an inflation? The unit of money suddenly loses its identity. The crowd it is part of starts growing and, the larger it becomes, the smaller becomes the worth of each unit...Just as one can go on counting upward to any figure, so money can be devalued to any depth... [Are you listening, Bernanke?] An inflation cancels out distinctions between men which had seemed eternal and brings together in the same inflation crowd people who before would scarcely have nodded to each other in the street."

Upton Sinclair: "The assumption [in the entertainment business] was that they would live happily ever after, though never was it shown how that miracle would be achieved, and though the divorce rate in America was continually increasing."

Andrew Carnegie: In bestowing charity, the main consideration should be to help those who will help themselves; to provide part of the means by which those who desire to improve may do so; to give who desire to use the aids by which they may rise; to assist, but rarely or never to do all. Neither the individual nor the race is improved by alms-giving. Those worthy of assistance, except in rare cases, seldom require assistance."

Sallust: "Growing love of money, and the lust for power which followed it, engendered every kind of evil. Avarice destroyed honor, integrity, and every other virtue, and instead taught men to be proud and cruel, to neglect religion, and to hold nothing too sacred to sell."

Jack Weatherford: "Compared with the physical force of the military and the spiritual authority of religion, money offered a third and completely novel way to organize society. Without regard to rank, class, or standing, anyone with the proper coin could buy a goat or a turnip, a jug of wine or a basket of fish, a parcel of land for a vineyard or a pinch of salt to flavor dinner...In the global economy that is still emerging, the power of money will supersede that of any nation, combination of nations, or international organization now in existence. The newly ascended financial elites hold no brief or loyalty for any particular country, and the third revolution in the history of money threatens to erode the value of kinship, religion, occupation, and citizenship as the defining components of civil and social life."

Tim Parks: "The real scandal of money, and particularly usury, as we have already said, is that it does not respect traditional hierarchies. The merest artisan can make a fortune and start strutting around in expensive crimson. The feudal order breaks down."

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