A quick shout out to the mathematicians of Poland. We received a cranky email from a subscriber last week accusing us of perpetuating the myth that Alan Turing single-handedly broke the German Enigma code during World War Two. Let the name of Marian Rejewski be sung loud and proud. It turns out Polish mathematicians did indeed do critical work in breaking Enigma. We stand corrected.
And while we’re on the subject of rehabilitating unsung Polish heroes of history, let’s not forget Jan Sobieski. We first heard of the 17th century Polish king from our classical rhetoric professor, Dr Zapatka, during our first year of university. Sobieski has been described as, “the saviour of Vienna and Western Civilisation”. Why?
The Polish king led an army of 81,000 men, including the famous Winged Hussars (or Husaria) against a force 130,000 Ottoman Turks besieging Vienna in 1683. The Polish attack on September 12th broke the Ottoman ranks. More importantly, if you’re looking at the grand arc of history, the battle was the high-water mark for the Ottoman Empires advance in Europe. The Hapsburg Empire rose in Europe.
By the way, the c probably deserves some historical rehabilitation, too. The Husaria were Europe’s most fearsome mounted cavalry. Its horsemen were mobile, heavily armoured, and used a long lance to disrupt entrenched pikemen or infantry soldiers. Then, they rode right through them with their war horses. The leopard skins they sometimes wore over their armour and the feathers on their back, which whistled through the wind as they charged, put fear into their enemies (or in Sun Tzu/John Boyd terms, weakened the morale and will to fight of their adversaries).
You would never know the Polish cavalry played such an important role in saving Western Civilisation. A popular myth exists that the Poles fought Nazi tanks on horseback in 1939. This myth has been debunked. The Poles fought bravely, and, as we now know, their contribution to the breaking of Enigma played a huge role in the war. Good on you, Poland.
As for the Poles first starring role in Western history, lots of interesting things began happening after the siege of Vienna. For example, the decline of the Ottoman Empire allowed for the slow expansion of European influence in the Middle East. You can trace many of today’s worst geopolitical problems to the European colonial expansion into the Middle East.
By the late 19th century, British companies, funded by money made from Australian gold mines, were exploring for oil in Persia. This is the story we told in our most recent issue of Australian Wealth Gameplan. Meanwhile, the Hapsburg Empire, with Vienna as its capital, would be the jewel in the crown of European civilisation right up until the outbreak of World War One in the summer of 1914. For the single-best portrait of life on the edge of the modern world and in the middle of the Austro-Hungarian decline, you should have a look at Robert Musil’s The Man Without Qualities.
When you look backward at history, the stories make sense because we can see the beginning, the middle, and the end. They make sense because we make a story out of it. Story telling is how human beings import causality into the sometimes random events of history. We like to think that things happen for a reason, or at least that there’s a good explanation for them.
But history happens every minute. As the American ecologist and writer Edward Abbey has written, “Geologic time includes now”. The events of history (and of the natural world) play out over spans of time that are larger than your life. But you still live within those times. And you still have to take action to promote your wealth, health, and survival.
We’re waxing a bit philosophical today because we’re appalled at the slavish attention paid to the worthless words uttered by central bankers. What a colossal waste of time and thought. There are so many good books to read, places to visit, fortunes to be made, and life to be lived.
And apparently we’re not the only one tired of being told what to do or what to pay attention to. The Irish are beginning to disobey their European masters by refusing to pay the EU imposed property tax. This is the surprising twist to global affairs we spoke about earlier this week.
The twist is not some new economic policy or stimulus that will “solve” all the problems. No such solution exists. The twist is that monetary policy and money printing have reached the end of their useful road in the public eye. This is an important psychological point in monetary history.
There is no theoretical limit to how much a central bank can expand its balance sheet to purchase assets. The Fed, the ECB, the Bank of Japan, even the Reserve Bank of Australia; they could all print new money from thin air to purchase assets and paper over the accumulated debt problems. But there IS one limit.
That limit is the patience of the people and taxpayers. That patience is wearing thin. When people are forced to pay absurd taxes in order to appease clueless policy makers (who are themselves in the employ of bankers), the financial system has reached an unstable cross roads. The limits on further monetary policy are now political. That means the next phase of this financial crisis is probably social and cultural.
And did we mention it’s an election year in America? Get ready for some social upheaval. In particular, keep an eye on what happens in June when the US Supreme Court rules on whether President Obama’s health care law is Constitutional. Let the social instability begin. In the meantime, please enjoy a relaxing, thoughtful, and peaceful Easter weekend.
for The Daily Reckoning Australia
From the Archives…
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