Adam Smith in Tuzla

Of all sections in Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, I think my favorite for the moment is Book I, Chapter 8.
When I shared this passage with Tuzla’s workers last night, they were astonished. For it is here that A Smith openly admits what all workers suspected all along; namely, that their penury arose from an original appropriation of property and capital in which they played no role but whose consequences they must endure with the full cooperation of their representatives in Sarajevo.
The passage begins as follows:
In that original state of things, which precedes both the appropriation of land and the accumulation of stock, the whole produce of labour belongs to the labourer. He has neither landlord nor master to share with him (I.8.2).
Neither landlord nor master. Unbelievable.
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But then Smith describes what all of them believe to have been the state of affairs in the former Yugoslavia:
Had this state continued, the wages of labour would have augmented with all those improvements in its productive powers, to which the division of labour gives occasion. All things would gradually have become cheaper. They would have been produced by a smaller quantity of labour; and as the commodities produced by equal quantities of labour would naturally in this state of things be exchanged for one another, they would have been purchased likewise with the produce of a smaller quantity (I.8.3).
Ever greater efficiency leading to ever less work and ever lower costs of goods.
But then Smith throws cold water in our faces. For what if workers in one sector, detergent for example, were able to produce ten times more efficiently than, let’s say, automobile tires, whose efficiency only increased two-fold. Smith describes this possibility as follows:
But though all things would have become cheaper in reality, in appearance many things might have become dearer than before, or have been exchanged for a greater quantity of other goods. Let us suppose, for example, that in the greater part of employments the productive powers of labour had been improved to tenfold, or that a day’s labour could produce ten times the quantity of work which it had done originally; but that in a particular employment they had been improved only to double, or that a day’s labour could produce only twice the quantity of work which it had done before. In exchanging the produce of a day’s labour in the greater part of employments, for that of a day’s labour in this particular one, ten times the original quantity of work in them would purchase only twice the original quantity in it. Any particular quantity in it, therefore, a pound weight, for example, would appear to be five times dearer than before. In reality, however, it would be twice as cheap. Though it required five times the quantity of other goods to purchase it, it would require only half the quantity of labour either to purchase or to produce it. The acquisition, therefore, would be twice as easy as before (I.8.4).
No landlords. No masters. And, yet, because Smith is describing a relationship of commodities to commodities, and labor to labor, the relative “costs” continue to mediate social relations even in the absence of private property or capital markets.
And so we have the 1970s, which every worker in the former Yugoslavia remembers wistfully as the good old days. In fact, the good old days were already heavily leveraging the Yugoslavian future. So efficient were workers in the former Yugoslavia that they had to work less and less for more and more (I.8.3). But because their society was still mediated by abstract labor, dropping prices and a flood of cheap goods threatened to lead to the forced closures of enterprises all across the state. Which is why, when the US pulled the dollar off the gold standard in 1972 and flooded world markets with cheap US dollars, Marshal Tito eagerly snapped up the opportunity. No landlords. No masters. But here the Yugoslavians were leveraging their futures not in order to produce more leisure time, but in order to produce its opposite. The factors remained running full-bore throughout the 1970s in thanks largely to cheap US dollars. But then in the early 1980s, when the US reined in its supply of dollars, the party ended.
What this means for more than fifty per cent of Bosnians and Herzegovinians who are out of work is that their efficiency in the 1960s ended up costing them big time. For, landlords or no landlords, in societies whose social relations are mediated by abstract labor, there is no choice. For although your efficiencies will produce leisure time in the short run, in the long run the compulsion, the necessity, for ever greater efficiency will never permit you to actually claim that leisure. The only solution is full factories — work — even when, owing to your very efficiencies, there is no work to be had.
But Smith does not stop there. A little further on, Smith will describe the very oligarchic strangle-hold that has forced those few Bosnians and Herzegovinians who do enjoy employment to work for only a fraction of the wages on offer elsewhere in Europe:
A landlord, a farmer, a master manufacturer, or merchant, though they did not employ a single workman, could generally live a year or two upon the stocks which they have already acquired. Many workmen could not subsist a week, few could subsist a month, and scarce any a year without employment. In the long-run the workman may be as necessary to his master as his master is to him, but the necessity is not so immediate. We rarely hear, it has been said, of the combinations of masters, though frequently of those of workmen. But whoever imagines, upon this account, that masters rarely combine, is as ignorant of the world as of the subject. Masters are always and every where in a sort of tacit, but constant and uniform combination, not to raise the wages of labour above their actual rate. To violate this combination is every where a most unpopular action, and a sort of reproach to a master among his neighbours and equals. We seldom, indeed, hear of this combination, because it is the usual, and one may say, the natural state of things which nobody ever hears of (I.8.12-13).
Tuzla’s workers are intimately familiar with these combinations of masters and employers and with the distortions they introduce throughout the Bosnian and Herzegovinian economy. They know — as Smith too knew — that this combination of capitalists is “the natural state of things.”
So, is Smith a Marxist? No. Of course not. Unlike von Hayek, or Menger, or Mises, however, who clearly had “drunk the Kool-Aid” as we say, Smith could look capitalism in the eye and call it by its name. For he knew, as these mystics or snake-oil salesmen did not know, that capitalism was a comprehensive, integrated, total system that left no room for what they mistakenly took for “freedom.” Where they strut about proclaiming the freedom of the working man, Adam Smith was perfectly comfortable calling the working man “a commodity,” which, like every other commodity, obeyed the dictates of supply and demand (I.8.39).
Where Adam Smith differed from Marx was not in the facts, which are plain for all to see; but in his interpretive categories. For, unlike Marx, Smith mistook the historically and socially specific relationships of domination and submission peculiar to capitalism for transhistorical, inalterable, realities fixed by the nature of human being as such. And in this respect he differed little from von Hayek, or Menger, or Mises, none of whom were particularly interested or observant students of history.
Marx, by contrast, saw this historical moment as contained and limited, constrained by its own unique circumstances. In some as yet unspecified future, he felt certain that workers would face up to this peculiar form of self-domination, a society structured completely around labour, labour value, and work. He felt certain that at some point human beings would elect to organize their social relations in such a manner as to respect the many, many different ways to judge value.
The workers of Tuzla are still stunned. Men and women who have built their entire lives around labour, stunned at Adam Smith’s honesty. But stunned as well that maybe their future, the future of emancipation, need not center upon labour.

Making Perfect Marks in Bosnia

The boys received their report cards this week. Perfect marks. All fives. Was I surprised? Not exactly. Was I happy? Not exactly.
Look. I know that it is difficult to study in a foreign language. I also know that Averil and Yates probably devoted more time to their homework than almost any of their classmates. (I know that at least one of their classmates, the son of a friend of hours, is a terribly good student; works hard, studies hard.) But I also know that fives are almost never ever given to students in Bosnia and Herzegovina. I distribute them very parsimoniously at the University. And so does my host, Damir Arsenijevic. So what gives?
Without taking anything away from the hard work of my boys or their teachers, I have met with the boys’ teachers. I think I know what happened. Here’s what happened.
Several of the boys’ teachers do not speak English. Some feel guilty. Some are angry that this “disturbance” was thrown their way. “Why didn’t they go to the international school?” Some forbid other students translate during class. Understandable. Not only because of their pride, but also because it would be a genuine disturbance.
Was there pressure from the School Director? Was there pressure from the Embassy? I don’t know. I really don’t.
What I do know is that at my own institution payments are made, transactions take place; professors, department heads, rectors, and even Education Ministers “appear” completely without or with “questionable” qualifications and without any review by their peers.
As many of you know, last week I was preoccupied with teaching at the Medresa Skola, the Islamic school in Tuzla. I taught at the Medresa because that is where the State Department has decided to invest its capital. And I think it is important for the State Department to build strong relationships with Islamic institutions. But here is the problem. In the genocidal wars the coursed through the former Yugoslavia twenty years ago, the perpetrators of genocide differentiated among Islamic, Catholic, and Orthodox Yugoslavians, “naturalizing” distinctions that, in effect, validated the genocidal acts they were prepared to perform. Since 1995, the vast majority of Bosnians and Herzegovinians attend public schools that serve all ethnic communities. However these communities are under attack from small, but militant minorities in each of the ethnic communities. It would therefore make sense for the State Department to offer support to these “mixed” public schools. Instead, for reasons that have more to do with its image-problem among Muslims worldwide (see Iraq, Israel, etc.) than with realities in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the State Department has decided to build ties to ethnically defined Madrasas, schools that are already the best-funded and best-staffed of all schools in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Nevertheless, when I met with the teachers at these schools last week nearly all admitted that they worked in terror of being laid off and that, for this reason alone they would not dare consider taking any action that did not meet with the approval of politically-tied administrators.
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But, surprisingly, their main topic of conversation with me was the recent court decision in California overturning High School tenure rules. In their view, the court’s ruling shows that California public school teachers are subject to exactly the same political pressures as teachers in Bosnia and Herzegovina. And they have a point. Where instructors do not enjoy independence from parents and administrators, they will be less inclined to teach or submit evaluations that conflict with the beliefs or wishes of these groups. Knowledge becomes subject to power, which, as everyone knows, is a poor instructor.
So, while I am pleased by my sons’ perfect marks, I am terribly disturbed by the politicized educational system that produced them. And, given the recent court decision in California, I have little confidence that this will change when we return to Berkeley in August.

Straight Talk at Banja Vrućica

It makes sense that my first published article in Eastern Europe would be titled “Možemo Li Živjeti Bez Države? Možda” in the Proceedings of the 9th International Symposium on Corporate Governance (20-21 June 2014), The Place and Role of the State in Economic Regulation. The symposium is being held at Banja Vrućica, Republik Srpska, a “wellness center” located outside the town of Teslić. Is the only reason I never went to these kinds of places in California (eg Esalen, Asilomar, etc.), is that it was always on my nickel? Or was it also that I don’t believe these privileged spaces ought to be privileged spaces?

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You have heard me talk on these pages of the oligarchs. Well, this is where they hang out. The parking lot is packed with BMWs, Porches, Mercedes — big, mostly black, “penis” cars. Here is where the booze and the under the table deals flow, generous gifts from the meetings sponsors: the Republic of Srpska Securities Commission, the Banja Luka Stock Exchange, Nova Banka, and others. And, yet, surprisingly most of the talks, including my own, were outspokenly critical of the oligarchy, recommending greater state control and regulation, and faulting neoliberalism for economic chaos in the Balkans. So what gives?

First, I am slowly coming to terms with the incoherence of most critiques of oligarchy. Is the oligarchy anti-democratic? Sometimes. But when it serves their interests, they are completely comfortable pitting the populace against the elites. Is the oligarchy anti-state? Sometimes. But when they are the state, which is the case in the Balkans, and where state regulation serves their interests, they are also entirely comfortable pouring more money into the state and through the state to their private interests.

Second, there is a very intimate relationship between the oligarchs and the academics. To be sure, this also holds for the University of California, Berkeley, which is an increasingly privately funded educational institution for the very wealthy. Think Haas and Shell. You want a great public education in California without the strings of private corporations attached? Go to Stanford, which has a sufficiently large endowment not to have to ask for corporate hand-outs. Not all economists in BiH are corrupt. And not all departments. But just as in the US, so in BiH, corporations are sophisticated enough to work all of the angles. (Remember my first paying gig was writing articles for the genetics industry.)

Third, when we are asked to speak at these events, where we enjoy a large, captive audience of bankers, corporate leaders, statesmen and economists, I think that we have something to say that is important. Do I think that what I said will change many minds? No. They know that without financial, political, and institutional backing, economists like me are no worse than a minor nuisance. And, yet, my presence here — along with many others — may serve as a persistent reminder that we are not going away and we are not holding our tongues.

So, what did I say? Look, even our universities treat oikonomia and politeia not as two different ways of governing, but instead as two entirely different fields. In fact, oikonomia mediates social relations despotically. It is one way of governing. Another way of governing is politically — what in Latin is called “res publica.” In republics, equally empowered and equipped citizens govern openly, deliberately, together for the public good. No invisible hand here.

This is what has happened: since 1776 nearly every new state has fashioned itself a “republic.” And some have come close to achieving this goal. By equipping all of their citizens to share in governance and by empowering them to govern, some states actually come close to being republics. But increasingly, most states that call themselves republics are in fact mediated by oikonomia, that is despotically. The Greek word despotes simply means “manager.” And so we could say that most of our states aspire to being managerial states. We want good managers. And we often field slates of candidates with “solid business credentials,” which only proves that they have experience telling employees what to do. That is the way private enterprises are supposed to work. But when states aspire to model themselves after private enterprises, they are no longer republics, but despotisms.

Again, the question isn’t whether there should or should not be private enterprise, but whether private enterprise should provide the model for the state. Does such a model work? Of course it does. Think of any well-run business. The best run businesses even offer employees some opportunity to share feedback. But private enterprises are are governed in a way completely contrary to republican self-government. That is the point that needs to be made.

The address was translated into Serbo-Croatian. The Proceedings were published in Serbo-Croatian. I only hope that someone was listening.

Covering Spivak in Montenegro

Tomorrow morning my sons and I fly to Podgorica, Montenegro, for the International Conference of the Institute of Foreign Languages, a linguistics conference run out of the University of Montenegro, where I am honored to be the keynote speaker. Montenegro is a much more prosperous successor nation than Bosnia and Herzegovina. In the recent Balkan wars, it was allied with Serbia. And when in 2006 its public voted for independence, it was by a narrow margin, just over the 55% threshold, that members of this community (then numbering just over half a million) voted for nationhood. Soon it will join Slovenia and Croatia as members of the EU. What can I possibly say to my colleagues gathering in Podgorica that might make a difference?

I could speak about the way in which the EU has rewarded homogeneity and punished diversity. All of the nations in the former Yugoslavia that expelled their ethnic minorities and established majority nation-states the EU has rewarded. Homogeneity and ethnic cleansing has its rewards, among them institutional and legal coherence. Thus, when Dayton imposed heterogeneity on Bosnia and Herzegovina, it also de facto excluded BiH from the exclusive club. Now it wants the three-headed entity it created to supersede the conflict that it reinscribed in the Dayton Accords. I could speak about this. But I won’t. Instead I have elected to recover a meme lost or suppressed over the past three decades concerning the outspoken Derridean who dared to positively invoke the memory of Karl Marx, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak.

My reasons for recovering this lost meme is multi-layered. Unlike most Marxists who comment on Spivak’s essay, I am attracted to the story Professor Spivak tells at the conclusion of “Can the Subaltern Speak?” where she explores the Sati-suicide of the daughter of a family friend. I am attracted to this story because it explores how bodies are sites of resistance. And I am attracted to stories that focus on the body because I suspect that Montenegrans, like most post-Yugoslavians, tend to flee from discussions that focus on the body.

But I am also attracted to Professor Spivak’s essay because, as a scholar, I desperately need the insights of activists who can point out where my own practices obscure, conceal, obliterate the body of knowledge I am professionally obligated to illuminate. It is not that I am ashamed or surprised by the spanking that Professor Spivak administers to comrades Foucault and Deleuze. So far had they wandered from the body of knowledge, from the international exchanges and circuitry that held the subaltern body hostage, that it had genuinely become unclear whether (as David Harvey and Frederic Jameson suspect) they had actually switched sides and become cheerleaders for the sublime value form of the commodity. (I personally do not receive a regular salary. I am a contingent, seasonal, laborer who regularly endures the loss of health insurance and other institutional benefits.) So I appreciate Spivak’s interrogation of those of us within our profession who straddle the fence, so to speak, playing both sides, and so inviting the subaltern to speak without acknowledging the mechanisms that account for her silence. (Because I am a white, educated male, I will always enjoy more institutional power than my non-white, non-male colleagues.) In post-Yugoslavia, post-structuralism offers the luxury of speaking while not speaking. So that my principle attraction to Professor Spivak is how she offers me an opportunity to invoke a criticism of disembodied critical theory that emerges from the camp of post-structuralism itself, a Derridean. (I am not a Derridean. I am a Marxian with shades of Freud and Lacan, but also enjoying fairly comprehensive knowledge of and appreciation for the Tanach, the broad Christian canon, and the Holy Quran.) Yet, perhaps, I am also attracted to Professor Spivak’s analysis because her implicitly anthropological methodology allows her to appreciate Marx’s non-foundational, historically and socially specific, ontology. This allows her to offer a non-teleological critique of empire and capital that points not in the direction of totality, but benign difference.
This benign difference is critical since it describes a way through the impasse inscribed upon the body of the post-Yugoslavian social actor. It was already invoked by Adorno in his well-known and often repeated Finale:

The only philosophy which can be responsibly practiced in face of despair is the attempt to contemplate all things as they would present themselves from the standpoint of redemption. Knowledge has no light but that shed on the world by redemption: all else is reconstruction, mere technique. Perspectives must be fashioned that displace and estrange the world, reveal it to be, with its rifts and crevices, as indigent and distorted as it will appear one day in the messianic light. To gain such perspectives without velleity or violence, entirely from felt contact with its objects — this alone is the task of thought.

I do not know whether this is truly emancipatory. I do not know where it will lead those who are convened in Podgorica.
Next week I speak at an economics conference attended by the oligarchs and pimps of the former Yugoslavia. I will deliver a similar message there. There is a chance that I will escape with my life.

A Virtue out of Necessity

Aristotle said it best over 2300  years ago; work is not a virtue, whether it is a necessity or, even worse, a choice.
Today I drove to Belgrade over the highway M-18 where three weeks ago we witnessed a whole hillside collapse onto a rescue vehicle and under which our own vehicle was very nearly crushed. The highway is still far from whole and the homes and fields on either side will not be whole for years to come; homes with watermarks four, five, or even six feet from the ground, and heaps of belongings piled up smoldering on their front lawns. Nevertheless, I tried as best I could to explain what had happened here to our visitors from London.
Upon my return to Tuzla, nine hours later I rushed off to my weekly meeting with Tuzla’s workers. As I explained to my visitors, this was not a meeting I was looking forward to. Last weeks meeting had been a huge disappointment. Our text had been Karl Marx’s Theses on Feuerbach. But instead of taking up their historically determinate position, the workers in my meeting had taken up the position of the bourgeoisie. And why shouldn’t they have? There is nothing in work or in working that makes workers particularly adept at social critique. And in a nation where 50 per cent of the workforce is unemployed, there is every reason for workers who remember the 1970s to identify the security of work and a steady flow of consumer goods with socialism. Marshal Tito gave the workers job security and a steady flow of consumer goods. What we need is Tito.

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Marshal Tito

As one worker at the meeting explained, “A nation is like a household. Every household needs a strong father.”
Workers are not the only ones confused by the last century of political economy. Theorists too are baffled. The temptation to identify emancipation with steady work and consumer goods is understandable. And, yet, if Marx is correct, then we need to learn how to differentiate between an older materialism — a materialism that, according to Marx, focuses on individuals and on civil society — and a more rigorous theoretical framework that focuses on social humanity and social relations. For just as the former Yugoslavia will not be saved by finding another Tito, so it will not be saved by throwing the bums (meaning the oligarchs) out. Individuals are neither the problem nor the solution. So just as a BBQ-of-one misses the point, so a social analysis of one misses the point. Workers themselves need to redirect their attention away from individuals and civil society and toward a new socialized humanity.
This new socialized humanity already possesses the means to realize its ends, not individually or by passing new laws to govern the production and exchange of commodities, but collectively by retraining the focus of socialized humanity upon the things that make our lives most meaningful. We mistake work and commodities for these things. But the workers, at least, know that this is not so. They know that what makes our lives meaningful is spending time with our friends and families, creating new things to share, enjoying good food and song, dance, art, stories together.
Which is why when Marx came to theorize the most radical action workers could take to seize their socialized future, he wrote about shortening the work day. We are all dominated by work. We are dominated by work even when, as in today’s Bosnia and Herzegovina, most of us are unemployed. Because even our ability to enjoy leisure time is (as Hannah Arendt pointed out a half century ago) pegged to work. And this is because we consume the efficiencies of labor not by producing leisure but by producing ever more labor.
When in the 1970s, Marshal Tito found himself caught between low-interest US loans and deindustrialization, he knew that Yugoslavians would not accept the latter. They had grown accustomed to steady work and a steady stream of consumer goods, which they mistook for the good life. And so he opted for the former. When President Reagan strengthened the dollar by restricting the monetary supply in the 1980s, Tito’s successors were caught flat-footed. All of a sudden, the cheap loans Marshal Tito had snapped up in the 1970s ballooned into huge debts. To pay them off, Tito’s successors were compelled by international law to eat into already socialized labor — the labor that had already been translated into public goods and services.
But the real question is: why wouldn’t the workers have accepted deindustrialization? And the difficult answer I think is that by the 1970s workers had come to identify work and consumption with the socialist dream.
At last night’s meeting we therefore revisited Marx’s Theses on Feuerbach, trying to draw a distinction between the old materialism and the new, between a materialism that focuses on individuals and civil society and a materialism that focuses on our social life together and upon the ends implicit in this shared life together. The problem then is also social. We cannot aim at these socialized ends by making a better, more humane and just capitalism. That is because capitalism, by its very nature, focuses on the individual and on civil society. Which means that we can only serve socialized humanity so by making these ends paramount and developing laws that serve these social ends.

Revisiting Borić through the Eyes of Tuzla’s Jews

Yesterday after meeting with a group of Tuzlan scholars studying psychoanalysis, Beatrice Patsalides Hofmann joined us on a trek up through the Banja, through the cemetery, to the small village where Kirsten spent time digging ditches last week. Beatrice is an old friend from Berkeley who, for the past ten years has been working as a psychotherapist with the Primo Levi organization in Paris.

 

Borić
Borić

 

Seminar
Seminar

The devastation is horrific. As we approached the village, several villagers recognized and came to talk with Kirsten who once again shared in their trauma. What else can we do? Aid is helpful, much needed and much appreciated. But the trauma will linger and will fester.

Borić
Borić

 

Borić
Borić

My colleagues in economics are inclined to view events such as last month’s devastating floods or the wars of a generation ago as episodic events without much lead-in and recovery from which entails no more than the right mix of capital and law. We cannot imagine the internal doors that close, sometimes permanently, with each additional major trauma. Economic assistance in Bosnia and Herzegovina more often than not is channelled into and through the bank accounts of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s oligarchs, who happen also to be the leaders in Local, Cantonal and Federal government, as payment for or in anticipation of party and personal loyalty. A handful of lucky citizens are permitted to ride such assistance to a somewhat better life. But the vast majority — without anything to exchange for assistance and/or jobs — must plead for their lives with their votes.

Even in a wealthier society, citizens who experience such trauma can, if they choose, take advantage of psychiatric resources to help them recognize and open the doors slammed shut by their pain. Here, even if there were psychiatric resources — which there are not — the lack of financial resources would keep all but the most meaningless therapy out of the reach of those who could most benefit from it; meaning everyone.

Last night around dinner we reflected with some local scholars about how the floods had loosened more than simply grave stones, bones, and land mines. The floods also loosened memories of the last Balkan wars. And, yet, in many respects, observed the locals, the floods were far worse. In 1992, Bosnians and Herzegovinians still enjoyed financial and institutional resources, and reasonably sound psyches, with which to face the pressures of war, rape and genocide. More than twenty years later, Bosnians and Herzegovinians have endured a generation of Dayton and a generation of abject poverty, abuse, and hopelessness. Facing the floods completely depleted of all resources — financial, psychic, spiritual — is far worse than 1992.
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Jewish Cemetery Headstone

As we wandered up through the Jewish cemetery, we took careful note of the epitaphs and terminal dates under the names. Many passed in the late 19th century, when Bosnia and Herzegovina was still under the protection and then (in 1908) fully incorporated into the Austro-Hungarian Empire. They were lawyers, doctors, and engineers. The grave stones spoke of their “second homeland.” All of these grave stones were in German. In the early twentieth century, there is a shift. The grave stones are now in Bosnian, and the tell-tale “i” in names like “Miriam” is now a “j” as in “Mirjam.” I can read the German, not the Bosnian. (Molim.) And then in the 1930s, there is an up-tick in the density of grave stones. Since Germany does not annex the region and cleanse Bosnia and Herzegovina of its Roma, Muslims, and Communists until the late 1930s, I am brought to conclude that this up-tick must be due either to disease or to economic hardship, or both. Moreover, the language of the grave stones has now shifted to Hebrew.
What this suggests is that even before the genocide of the late 1930s and the 1940s — when Croats were given liberty to massacre Serbs and Muslims indiscriminately — there is evidence already both of increasing economic hardship and also increasing nationalism within Tuzla’s large Jewish community.

Economists, as I said, tend to view events episodically without much lead-in and without much lasting consequence. And, yet, what might it have taken in the 1920s, when investors in Europe and America were raking in profits hand over fist, to spread that wealth out more broadly so that it might generate something approaching sustained and sustainable economic growth? Probably not much, you say. But at the time both Europe’s and America’s politicians were the property of their respective industrial oligarchs. Nothing doing. But let us suppose that even a rump of these oligarchs had elected to throw their resources at the already large and growing socialist or communist left, permitting these militants the power, in the 1920s, to do what they could no longer do in the 1930s. What if they could pass legislation to redirect national resources to working families? And what if, therefore, this redistribution had exercised a moderating, deflationary, influence in the mid-1920s, therein pressuring investors to plow their resources into sustainable industries. Perhaps then the bubble of 1929 could have been avoided and the political extremism of the 1930s averted.

So, even as I am wandering through the Jewish cemetery of Tuzla, I am thinking not only about the dead who surround me. I am thinking about the future dead who will surround me, who already surround me, among whom I also am planted. And I am thinking about Walter Benjamin’s observation:

our image of happiness is indissolubly bound up with the image of redemption. The same applies to our view of the past, which is the concern of history. The past carries with it a temporal index by which it is referred to redemption. There is a secret agreement between past generations and the present one. Our coming was expected on earth. Like every generation that preceded us, we have been endowed with a weak Messianic power, a power to which the past has a claim. That claim cannot be settled cheaply. Historical materialists are aware of that.

These many Jews planted on a hillside on a path leading to Borić expected our coming on earth. They have a claim on us. And, yet, as I contemplate all of the pain and trauma concentrated on this small plot of land in south central Europe, I am fearful that we may already be too late. This past week, representatives from the EU, the World Bank, and the IMF met in Sarajevo with Bosnia and Herzegovina’s oligarchs to divide up the pie, so to speak. These same representatives could have met with Plenum, the public bodies representing the people. They did not. There is still time.