Saturday, September 05, 2020

Adam Tooze: American Power in the Long 20th Century


London Review of Books (LRB) lecture:
The history of American power, as it is commonly written, is a weighty subject, a matter of military and economic heft, of ‘throw-weight’, of resource mobilisation and material culture, of ‘boots on the ground’. In his lecture, Adam Tooze examines an alternative, counterintuitive vision of America, as a power defying gravity. This image gives us a less materialistic, more fantastical and more unstable vision of America’s role in the world.
The Q&A at 1h03min is probably the best (at least most concise) part of the talk. I don't find the Geithner anecdote quite as important / symbolic as Tooze does. Geithner is expressing the point that financial markets and economies are heavily affected by animal spirits, investor confidence, etc. Geithner understands well how much the power of central banks depends on purely psychological multiplier effects.

From a YouTube comment, this outline:
1:10 - Tim Geithner; U.S. Treasury: America had been “defying gravity" 
5:50 - U.S. was the “gravity” of world 
11:07 - U.S. is now also subject to the “gravity” of world 
13:28 - 100 years of 9 historic U.S. events; Overview 
14:44 - Adam Tooze; Historian “Ordering rather than Order, and the Disordering effects of efforts at Ordering.” 
16:28 - Start at the beginning of 1800’s 
17:12 - 1898 U.S. Imperialist power 
17:50 - 1916 U.S. Globalist power 
18:47 - Woodrow Wilson; U.S. President 
22:46 - 1920s Republican domestic priority of Financial Austerity and Tax cuts. 
25:59 - Great American Financial shocks/panics; 1857, 1873, 1893, 1896, 1907, 1920, 1929 26:49 - 1920s Great Depression 
27:18 - 1930s U.S. Hyper militaristic power 
31:51 - World War 2; One World, One War (1942) 
33:48 - Post World War 2, Bretton Woods economic conference. 
36:24 - Marshall Plan not the same as Bretton Woods... 
41:10 - Cold War: Asia 
43:30 - U.S. President Nixon abandons the Gold peg in 1971. Which results in inflation in G7 countries and Switzerland. 
44:10 - Keynesian era 50s to 60s. Start of Neoliberalism or the Paul Volcker shock 1979. 
45:07 - Cold War: Europe 1980s, Reagan & Gorbachev 
47:13 - Concluding phase of the talk 
1:01:56 - Challenges in 2019 and going forward; China and Climate Change 
1:03:20 - Q&A
Also recommended: Tooze on US-China geopolitical competition (August 6 2020 Sinica podcast). This discussion focuses more on the present and future than the past and may be of more interest to readers.

This conversation with Tyler Cowen is excellent, with more focus on Europe.

This is part 3 of a discussion at the Paris School of Economics. Thomas Piketty is on the panel and his remarks are in part 2, following Tooze's presentation in part 1. I recommend part 3 as the most interesting. Topics covered include MMT, inequality, central banks, current sources of systemic risk. Note this discussion took place before the Covid19 pandemic. Tooze mentions individual hedge fund compensation in the hundreds of millions or billions of dollars. Typically in such cases a big chunk of this compensation is really returns from the individual's own net worth which is co-invested with the fund. So it's not directly comparable to other forms of compensation, such as salary or bonus.

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