Category Archives: Holidays

The Fourth of July and Ancient Greece and Rome

One of my personal traditions for the 4th of July is watching 1776.  For those who are unfamiliar with this movie, it is based on the 1970s musical of the same name and starts the recently deceased Ken Howard as Thomas Jefferson.  In part because of the era when this musical was written, it takes a more open-eyed view of the events of the Spring of 1776 leading up to the Declaration of Independence — including the flaws of the founding fathers, the difficulty in getting the resolution on independence passed, and how slavery almost prevented independence.

Aside from its willingness to confront the history mostly head on — it acknowledges the existence of a faction in the Continental Congress that was more interested in compromise than independence but glosses over the large loyalist contingent in the country as a whole — another interesting thing about the musical numbers is that the last musical number — sung by John Adams — includes some allusions to the Roman Republic.  At the time of the framing, Rome and Athens were seen as models of ancient democracies and what could go wrong with them.  This admiration can be seen in Washington identifying himself with Cincinnatus — an early Roman statesman who was called to serve Rome in a time of crisis — receiving emergency powers — who resigned to return to civilian life when the crisis had passed and the three authors of The Federalist Papers using the pseudonym Publius.  Putting aside the fact that, in reality, both Rome and Athens were much less democratic than the United Kingdom, a major interest of the framers (discussed at length in their writings) was why Athenian democracy and Roman democracy ultimately fell and what that meant for the new country that they were building.   In both cases, the problem was that the small country became an empire.

In the case of Athens, Athens sought to use its preeminent position after the Persian Wars for its own benefit at the expense of its supposed allies (who quickly became client states) and its neighbors.  The result of this “Athens First” policy was to encourage revolts in the subject states and an anti-Athens alliance among its neighbors leading to constant warfare until another regional power crushed all of the Greek city-states.  In the end, putting Athens First did not make Athens Great Again. Continue Reading...

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Memorial Day: Bought and Paid For…

Vietnam Memorial Wall

This is my post from 2015. Nothing to add.

Today is Memorial Day. It seems bittersweet to say “Happy Memorial Day” as this day was bought and paid for with the blood of those men and women (and dogs) who gave their lives so that the rest of us can breathe free. Continue Reading...

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Labor Day: Trade and Immigration

minersOne of the basic concepts of economics is that the production of goods and services are a product of both capital (equipment) and labor (the work to turn raw material into finished goods or to provide the services).  Some industries are what economists call “capital intensive” — meaning that relatively speaking it takes a lot of capital to purchase the equipment needed to operate (think the automobile industry).  A capital intensive industry is difficult for new competitors to enter.    Other industries are labor intensive — meaning that it takes little to capital to purchase the basic equipment and labor is the main input (think almost any profession).  The only restrictions on entering these industries is any licensing requirement for workers.   The degree to which an industry is capital intense (and how much skill the labor requires) in turn has an impact on the degree to which it is vulnerable to foreign trade and immigration poses a threat to existing workers.

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Self-Evident Truths: 1776 and 2015

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”  To paraphrase the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., despite this strong affirmation of basic principles of government in the Declaration of Independence, the practice of these basis principles by the United States has been somewhat schizophrenic.

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