Wednesday, November 23, 2005

brain dump

thinking of states is not the appropriate way to think about the middle east.

all norms and structures are practices: they are not constructed, in that they do not exist indepedently of their implementation; rather, they are patterns of practice and action that can be identified and that from which can be extrapolated reasonably predictable parameters within which action will occur.

all systems of surveillance, coercion and co-option in the middle east, as elsewhere, stem from constantly evolving practices: the state, as it is envisaged today, is basically the concentration of those practices in a bureaucratic organisation. as elsewhere, some practices evolved indigenously in the middle east while others were learnt from others.

the evolution of these practices can be readily observed by examining the longue duree.

many of the practices that characterise the middle east today are coded as norms. the establishment of identity and community is based on particular interpretations of the world, and specific practices are coded as proceeding inexorably from those interpretations. that linkage gives the normative weight to those practices, and allows the practices to become to some degree self-reinforcing.

while the interpretations hark back to a bygone age, today's practices are new, creating constellations of coercion and co-option that have not existed previously but that contain the echoes of previous constellations.

patterns of coercion and co-option existed on the arabian peninsula long before the prophet, and in those patterns, described by ibn Khaldoun, can be discerned the reflection of the modern Gramscian concept of hegemony.

the coming of the prophet broke down the steady system that had existed on the peninsula and triggered a violent realignment of power relations. by elaborating a system of practices that could pacify medina, a huge quantity of previously untapped power was released, which flowed across the peninsula and out along north africa and into spain and in the other direction into persia. but as the ripple that had started in medina spread outwards, it left the water in its wake calm - that is, it left behind it different steady system. the new steady system was constituted of old practices - for bedu of the desert, the merchants of the hejaz and the traders of trucial oman, little changed - upon which was superimposed the new discourse of islam. the old balance of power system revived, and ebbed and flowed until muhammed ibn saud made his pact with muhammed ibn abd al wahhab. through shari'a, the bedu could act in unison: again, the power that was unleashed swept all before it. but when the wahhabis took the hejaz they threatened the greater regional hegemon, the ottomans, and the egyptians were delegated to crush them. the egyptians benefitted from 'modern' (i.e. bureaucratised) practices/technologies of organisation and were thus they could muster superior force and defeated the al-Saud.

the british became increasingly interested in the region and the al-saud played them off the ottomans. the british supported the al saud and taught them new organisational technologies, which were then translated into practices that increasingly resembled statecraft. they taught similar technologies the rulers of the uae and oman. these new practices included many conceits copied from the british monarchy, which melded easily with the traditional concepts of sheikh and amir. so new practices of power were garbed in old clothes.

the discovery of oil meant that new practices had to be developed. these practices were concerned with the appropriation of the revenues resulting from those resources by those who were at the apex of the constellation of power relations and the redistribution of a proportion of those revenues in such a way as to perpetuate the trope of the benificent patriarch and to sate the jealousy of their more ambitious fellows. a new technology imported from the british allowed the development of such practices in a way that would not take the form of such an explicit pay-off. the advent of oil wealth meant that money had to be administered. the administration of resources for the public benefit was commonly conducted in the west by an organisation called a bureaucracy. the adoption of the organisational structure of the bureaucracy in the middle east provided both a conduit for the distribution of oil revenues and a legitimating discourse for such distribution. the government of oil - the practices of extracting oil and administering the resulting revenues - was the entire purpose of the new organisation, and those whose tribes had been at key points in the shifting structure of power relations in the pre-oil period expected and were expected to wield influence in the new steady system of bureaucracy.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Gnomic central bankers

Remarks by Chairman Alan Greenspan
At the Annual Dinner and Francis Boyer Lecture of The American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, Washington, D.C.
December 5, 1996

Clearly, sustained low inflation implies less uncertainty about the future, and lower risk premiums imply higher prices of stocks and other earning assets. We can see that in the inverse relationship exhibited by price/earnings ratios and the rate of inflation in the past. But how do we know when irrational exuberance has unduly escalated asset values, which then become subject to unexpected and prolonged contractions as they have in Japan over the past decade? And how do we factor that assessment into monetary policy? We as central bankers need not be concerned if a collapsing financial asset bubble does not threaten to impair the real economy, its production, jobs, and price stability. Indeed, the sharp stock market break of 1987 had few negative consequences for the economy. But we should not underestimate or become complacent about the complexity of the interactions of asset markets and the economy. Thus, evaluating shifts in balance sheets generally, and in asset prices particularly, must be an integral part of the development of monetary policy.

The public examination of Federal Reserve actions extends well beyond our stewardship of monetary policy. Our overall management of the Federal Reserve System should, and does, come under considerable scrutiny by the Congress. Since we expend unappropriated taxpayer funds, we have an especial obligation to be prudent and efficient with the use of those funds. I am not particularly concerned about the one-third of our annual $2 billion budget that is expended to provide financial services to the private sector in competition with other providers. Such services include the clearing of checks, the operation of the Fedwire system, and the processing of automated clearing house payments. We are reimbursed for those services, and at competitive prices still make a reasonable profit for the Treasury. If we became inefficient and uncompetitive, we would be priced out of the market, and eventually out of that line of business."

Speech of His Excellency the Governor (pdf)
To the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques on the Occasion of the Presentation of SAMA's Forty-First Annual Report

"...It is highly gratifying that in assessing the performance of the Saudi economy, various international financial organizations and rating agencies have paid tribute to the economic policies followed by your wise leadership for continued maintenance of fiscal consolidation and confining expansion in expenditure to long-term investment in vital production sectors and programs aimed at improving the status of the categories of the community whose needs are paramount, particularly in view of the fact that the increase in revenues has resulted from developments in the global oil market which has been subject to considerable volatilities over time.

Your wise leadership will ensure, God willing, consolidation of the economic march and save the economy from the vagaries of the oil market. Your directives to rationalize expenditure in spite of the substantial improvement in revenue and to allocate the fiscal surplus for future projects and important programs, reduce public debt, and build appropriate reserves to meet adverse impacts that might result from unexpected and sudden changes in the oil market are quite reassuring and speak of Your Majesty's sagacity and foresightedness.

May the Almighty Allah guide your steps to success."

Friday, November 04, 2005

George Eliot

"The sense of security more frequently springs from habit than from conviction, and for this reason it often subsists after such a change in the conditions as might have been expected to suggest alarm. The lapse of time during which a given event has not happened is, in this logic of habit, constantly alleged as a reason why the event should never happen, even when the lapse of time is precisely the added condition which makes the event imminent."