The Real Invisible Hand

‘The Invisible Hand’ is a theory that has been used as a metaphor for the unseen forces that move the free market economy. According to the aforementioned theory, self-interest is and should be the core of economic thought, as it is the most powerful incentive known to humanity. Individualism, when combined with the freedom in relation to what to produce and consume, make for a mighty duet that suits our economy and even society. The popular metaphor refines two principles – that voluntary trades and transactions within the free market produce extensive benefits for society at large, and that such benefits would be unattainable in a planned economy. 

According to Investopedia, “The invisible hand is part of laissez-faire, meaning “let do/let go,” approach to the market. In other words, the approach holds that the market will find its equilibrium without government or other interventions forcing it into unnatural patterns.” 

Adam Smith – hopefully I need not introduce him – personally formed this concept of The Invisible Hand and mentioned it in several of his writings; notably, it found its current economic interpretation in his book An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations published in 1776. 

Now, as a famous man once stated, “everything you said is true, however…” neither Smith’s doctrine nor the whole Laissez-Faire ideology sincerely imply what Investopedia and other similar sources would indicate they do. 

A useful prelude would be to mention that Adam Smith (creator of The Invisible Hand theory) and the Physiocrats (creators of the Laissez-Faire ideology) are somewhat linked. Obviously, they were classical political economists. The Father of Economics was heavily influenced by the French group and in particular their leader François Quesnay (1694–1774); A.Smith even travelled to France to meet with them, and he later adopted many Physiocratic approaches. 

Let me present a description of Laissez-Faire, including its origins and meaning, as reported by Professor Michael Hudson in his recent book ‘J is for Junk Economics’ –

  • “Coined by the French Physiocrats, Laissez faire meant “let us be,” free from the royal taxes shifted onto labor and industry. The Physiocratic alternative was the Single Tax (L’Impot Unique) falling on the land held by France’s hereditary aristocracy and royal family. Adam Smith advocated such a tax on Britain’s (absentee) landlords, and subsequent economists extended it to include rentier income in general” 
  • “Today’s right-wing libertarians have reversed this original idea of laissez faire to mean freeing the rentier class from taxes. This shifts the fiscal burden onto labor and consumers – the reverse of what the Physiocrats, Adam Smith and other classical economists meant. Libertarian anthropologists draw pictures of a mythical age in which no public sector existed with no palace or temples to regulate economies and levy taxes or fees for basic public services. Such junk archaeology about a “natural” or “primordial” society provides a faux-historical rationalization for junk economics.” 

In other words, land rent – the central driver of Economic Surplus in 18th century France – was produced by forces of nature, rather than that of the nobility’s labour or enterprise, therefore the Physiocrats advocated for the landed aristocracy’s groundrent to be taxed instead of labour and industry. What free market economists (in their usual ways) have done was actually to reverse the meaning of the French term from making the working class and others “free from the royal taxes shifted onto labour and industry” to actually mean “freeing the rentier class from taxes.” This turnaround is most outrageous. 

Now, sources such as the one cited at the start of this essay communicate the fact that Adam Smith’s The Invisible Hand theory came into fruition among the pages of The Wealth of Nations. In reality, the term dates back to Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) in which he essentially stated that individuals should achieve higher prosperity by seeking their own self-interest. Yet by the time he wrote the famous Wealth of Nations he had actually discovered that hereditary land ownership, monopolies and kindred rent seeking are incompatible with such a balance.  

In fact, the Scott disclosed another Invisible Hand – which took the form of insider dealing and conspiracy against the commonwealth which occur when businessmen gather and scheme against the public good by seeking monopoly power and rent.  

Smith’s famous theory did fully form along the pages of The Wealth of Nations as websites such as Investopedia preach, yet the content of his hypothesis was entirely differing. Below is some evidence extracted from the original source – 

  • “The dearness of house-rent in London arises … above all the dearness of ground-rent, every landlord acting the part of a monopolist” (Wealth of Nations, Book 3, Chapter 10) 
  • “People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, to raise prices … though the law cannot hinder people of the same trade from sometimes assembling together, it ought to do nothing to facilitate such assemblies; much less to render them necessary” (Wealth of Nations, Book 1, Chapter 10) 

Yet free market economists have tried to appropriate Adam Smith as their mascot, stripping away his critique of ground-rent and monopolies to depict him as a patron saint of deregulation and lower property taxes – although he never truly aligned himself with such policies.  

Remember when General Motors’s CEO Charles Wilson proclaimed that what’s good for GM is good for the United States? Smith observed that almost every private interest represents its gains as a public benefit, as if predicting the absurd comments from top managers and CEOs such as Charles Wilson that would follow soon after the great economist’s death. The Scott eventually decided to oppose the idea that socially compatible outcomes derive from free market operations, while accepted definitions of his own theory of The Invisible Hand declare that he preached the exact opposite. 

A further comment on these topics comes from the very same Professor Michael Hudson – 

  • “Financial wealth long was called “invisible”, in contrast to “visible” landed property. Operating on the principle that what is not seen will not be taxed or regulated, real estate interests have blocked government attempts to collect and publish statistics on property values. Britain has not conducted a land census since 1872. Landlords “reaping where they have not sown” have sought to make their rent seeking invisible to economic statisticians. Mainstream orthodoxy averts its eyes from land, and also from monopolies, conflating them with “capital” in general, despite the fact that their income takes the form of (unearned) rent rather than profit as generally understood” 

To this day, the big corporations and organizations collude to exploit consumers, especially through established weak points, such as insurance and real estate. They use their power and money to lobby (individually and collectively) for whatever suits them best – they get together to extract favours, privatization giveaways and special subsidies from government. Such misdeeds remain unpunished due to the law of The Invisible Hand and Laissez-Faire policies, as both terms have been adopted into the free market economics collection and detached from their original meanings (a common practice for free marketeers and their client academics, who create their own economic history and economic jargon). Landlords, monopolists, banks and various insatiable capitalist organizations succeed in shifting taxes and regulation away from themselves and abundantly moving the fiscal burden towards labour and industry, while manipulating the choking economy. The nature of many economic concerns has remained unchanged since the 18th century. Adam Smith would turn in his grave upon hearing of such catastrophe. 

P.S. The purpose of this blog post was primarily to describe and explain the origins and various meanings of the terms Laissez-Faire and The Invisible Hand; Following essays will discuss topics such as debt peonage, monopolists, privatization, rent seekers, economic rent, etc. in more detail.

Bibliography 

  • Adam Smith’s An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, 1776 
  • Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments, 1759 
  • Michael Hudson’s J is for Junk Economics, 2017 

Singapore’s success story

Singapore is currently considered one of the wealthiest countries on earth (in terms of per capita income) and enjoys an excellent reputation as one of the world’s largest financial hubs. Legends say how easy it is to do business in Singapore, while tourists praise the clean nature of the country’s streets. The Asian state’s magical economic transformation has been classified a “miracle” of free markets by insatiable Western-world capitalists. Yet this unique success story’s roots must be scrutinized first.

Singapore was exploited by the British Empire until 1965, when independence was finally granted. With little land, no resource bonanza, and a population of recent migrants with no shared history, Singapore’s prospects as an independent state were rather dim – so much that even fresh water was not readily accessible. The country’s first prime minister, the late Lee Kuan Yew is credited with transforming it. He called one volume of his memoirs, “From Third World to First”.

Lee is one of the founders of the Socialist People’s Action Party of Singapore, appointed its secretary-general in 1954. He became a member of the Singapore Internal Security Council in 1959 and went on to be elected Prime Minister of the Republic in 1965. Given his Cambridge education and a traditional Chinese upbringing, this shrewd politician possessed a unique blend of qualities that would define his dominance of the local political landscape for many years. And although Singapore’s economic development has been linked with free trade, reform and opening up, as well as other Western principles, the man behind the miracle possessed many authoritarian tendencies.

Economic growth was accelerated due to a combination of various policies and happenings, collectively achieved because of the determination and involvement of the state. Even to this day, as much as 85% of housing in Singapore remains publicly owned. Major infrastructure projects that transformed Singapore into a robust manufacturing power, were mostly funded and planned by the government. Integration and cooperation with the West occurred only due to the determination of Lee Kuan Yew and his Cabinet advisers. Political freedom and choice were largely suppressed and Lee’s reign remained unchallenged. Not many free-marketeers enjoy such a description. Yet the current political and economic landscape is dictated by short-term, unwise decisions made by leaders who care not for what happens after their 4,5,6 or 8-year term in office; with Donald Trump being a prime example. In Asian countries, a popular argument would be that a political party/leader must be able to remain in power until he can bear the fruit of his own success. And there is some logic in such a statement.

An abundancy of countries, including Asian ones, have witnessed cuckoo authoritarians that amassed personal wealth and prestige, allowed corruption, abused the rights of their citizens and denied foreign involvement. Yet in Singapore, there is no Maoist cult of personality, no huge portraits of the Prime Minister, no Lee Kuan Yew badges, no “little red book of his sayings”; in fact, he did not care for personal possessions at all, having kept his wage at an abnormally low level all throughout his reign. Lee introduced tie-less white shirts as formal wear in Singapore, explaining that “government servants should wear what the average man can afford”.

Although Lee’s experience in political organisation came exclusively from the Communist Party, whom he previously praised for being the only group that was competent enough to overrun British rule in Singapore, this leader is not a Communist by ideology. In politics and in economics, Lee is simply a realist and a pragmatist, with a traditional, yet effective approach. Many of his policies and preferences may serve as a great lesson to the various countries that are nowadays classified as “developing”.

Fairy-godmother aid of affluent Western countries has become a major toolkit of any struggling, or “developing” economy; yet Lee did not receive any donations and certainly did not base his policies around pleasing the West. Receiving know-how, financial advise, managerial experience from Westerners is crucial for economic development, yet the encouragement of foreign investment must be selective and not all industries, or sectors of the economy, should be eligible to foreign influence. It is the government of the receiving country that must take a proactive approach in reaching cooperation with affluent Western entities, to be able to dictate certain terms that will make certain that both sides do benefit. Ethiopia, for example, is currently vouching for FDI-oriented industrial policy to maintain its growth rate, copying the success stories of numerous Asian states. Yet what Ethiopia is lacking is the ability, or the continuous desire to actively push for local content requirements. The strategy of linking foreign firms with local suppliers became a staple of industrial policies in Taiwan and Singapore. Foreign firms’ links with local producers were assisted by proactive industry associations. For example, the electronics industry association TEAMA aggressively recruited members from both foreign and local firms and, with the support of the government, actively promoted the ‘local content program’. Local producers wanted to take advantage of the technology, management skills and sales networks of transnational corporations. Lee Kuan Yew relied on technical, rather than financial advice; Ethiopia must attempt to repeat after the Asian countries.

As FDI opportunities are usually plentiful, there must have been some uniqueness that enabled Singapore to attract so much foreign attention and involvement. The government enabled this through “policy of judicious financial incentives”, including – unlike Hong Kong – reasonably priced land for carefully selected, labor-intensive industries and also due to swift, efficient and bribe-free decisions on investment proposals that some Americans, Europeans and Asians accustomed elsewhere to snail-paced negotiations requiring extralateral lubrication almost went into shock. Compared to the centralised command systems in China, where one must build up personal relationships and patiently wait to be accepted by a number of dozens of influentials until a project can begin, Lee’s state was incredibly easy to do business in. The integration of the English language into Singaporean school curriculums, business and social life also stimulated cooperation with the rest of the world, while uniting an ethnically different nation at the same time.

Other policies that are being imposed on developing countries are those of ‘laissez-faire”, especially considering government intervention. Yet it is the famous free-market success story – that of Singapore – which was achieved through continuous government intervention. Certain sectors, such as housing, were entirely accounted for by the public sector, and this has allowed for affordable housing. Early in the 1960s, the government began to expand infrastructure facilities and to build its first industrial site, Jurong, on a stretch of muddy wasteland. By the end of 1973, “Jurong had more than 450 large and small factories, with at least 75 others under construction” and “There are shipbuilding and repair yards, electronics and electric machinery plants (45 firms in 1973, none in 1966), manufacturers of plastics, textiles, and precision instruments”. It is vital that the state encourages economic growth and prosperity in developing economies by directly expanding the country’s productive capabilities through investment into infrastructure projects, and also provide jobs in the process too – as such development sites always do. If local production is not developed by the government, an exposition of local firms into the perplexed global markets will illustrate their uncompetitiveness and immaturity in light of superior rivals.

Lee’s government launched the most successful, determined and imaginative birth control program in Asia. It not only provided information, contraceptives, and clinics, but decreed the virtually free hospitalization for pregnant mothers, income tax relief for children, and lowered rates for government housing would not apply with the advent of a third child. Voluntary sterilization and abortion were legalized. Population growth of 4.2% has been reduced to 1.7 in just one year(!). This is an example of what a determined government can achieve when they truly care about the population as well as know what is best for the country.

When it is necessary to develop an agenda, a state must act aggressively and continuously enforce any new laws or policies in order for the citizens to become fully complacent with them. Strictly administered penalties, incessant propaganda, including constant exhortations by Lee Kuan Yew, who can neither understand nor tolerate physical or mental untidiness, as well as income tax deductions for extraordinarily neat, pretty yards, among a series of other measures, have allowed the spotlessness of Singapore – a country well-known for its tidy nature.

Corruption can be a poisonous seed if it is inherently deep-rooted. Various Asian states, ranging from Russia to China, have struggled to cope with the issue of corruption, while Lee mastered this art in remarkable fashion. Once again, the key is to have a determined government that is willing not only to pass some laws and orders to maintain their agenda, but actually ensure that those laws are properly enforced. And Lee did just that. The anticorruption bureau, with employees strategically planted, incognito, in various offices, was directly responsible to the Prime Minister himself. Citizens would be indictable merely for offering bribes, and public servants are sometimes investigated simply on the basis of a rumour. Lee Kuan Yew’s practical, effective measures to keep public servants not only efficient and responsive to the public, but also honest, is a unique achievement that has largely been associated with a cultural and ethical approach to corruption and the need for loyalty that Lee constantly suggested.

Finally, the true power that enabled Singapore’s rise in world politics and economics is its population. Lee came across as a humble, selfless servant who the average Singaporean could relate to and felt closely associated with. He imposed fair, yet inflation-free wage rates and provided affordable housing for so many millions of people. The cooperation of average Singaporeans, which Lee brought about by refraining from making grandiose promises or glossing over problems and failures, while insuring that the benefits of increasing prosperity were equally shared, instead of making the rich richer, were the true reason for his success. He valued hard work and cooperation with commonplace citizens above all else.

Lee’s aims were to create an affluent and technologically advanced society, yet without the ills that accompany Western powers, such as the breakdown of the family, of respect for elders; abandonment of religion and moral codes; alcohol, drugs; and the repudiation of patriotism and the duties of citizenship. He integrated Western know-how and business practices while emphasizing a distinct cultural and historical uniqueness (largely Asian) and maintaining the crucial role of the government in Singapore. His great political goal was a welfare state where business and industry are guided, but not owned, by government, and where every citizen has a periodic secret vote, religious and cultural freedom, an education, economic opportunity, an improving standard of living, and a healthful physical environment.

Lee Kuan Yew employed both authoritarian and free-market policies; he was fond of the Communists, yet never became one; his policy set can not be easily classified – he was simply a great leader who was realistic and pragmatic, true to his origins, to his word, and to those that were true to him. Lee valued Singapore and its citizens, and did anything that was at all possible to improve their standard of living, even at the odd expense of Western values of democracy and free markets. As the world is likely heading into another recession, and the debate about suitable economic/political tendencies prevails, I just wish we had more leaders like Lee Kuan Yew – loyal, selfless and determined.



Bibliography

· Yew, Lee Kuan, and Altaf Gauhar. “Lee Kuan Yew.” Third World Quarterly, vol. 1, no. 2, 1979, pp. 1–6. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3990328.

· Durdin, Peggy. “Lee Kuan Yew and Singapore: A Profile.” Asian Affairs, vol. 1, no. 3, 1974, pp. 151–169. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/30176288.

Zhukov’s Berlin Brightness

by Nizami Piriev

Between April 16 and May 2, 1945, the Battle of Berlin occurred. Although the outcome of this assault is well-known throughout the world, certain technicalities remain unacknowledged. We must shed light (excuse me for the terrible pun) upon the matter and endorse Georgi Zhukov’s master plan.

The last battle the Soviet army would fight in 1945 went on to become Zhukov’s most notorious realisation. He prepared a swift night time attack using projectors. 140 projectors were installed near the front lines. The task was to direct Soviet infantry by lighting up pathways ahead of them, as well as blinding the enemy once the invasion would be under way. Zhukov ensured that the artillery corps and the infantry would be fully familiar with the nature of the upcoming illuminations, in his classic disciplinary excellence.

15 projectors would cover one advancing infantry corps, to direct their movement effectively and prevent enemy resistance. The lights were placed approximately a kilometer away from the front line, to allow for coverage over about 3 kilometers into enemy territory.

An illustration of Zhukov’s plan. Projectors that were designed to be able to change the direction of their light beams are the two that are placed slightly lower on the map, compared to the three projectors with the fixed light beam directions, that are placed in between the versatile projectors.

It was impossible to create an even illuminated front due to the uneven terrain. Because of this, corps and division commanders took measures to ensure that infantry kept their heading. Special “azimuth men” were trained, one per infantry company. Special night units were also formed for regiment and battalion commanders. These units were tasked with sending signals, illuminating terrain not covered by projectors, and marking the direction of battalion movement with tracers. These units contained handheld machine guns with large amounts of tracer rounds, as well as flares. The boundaries between advancing regiments were marked with 76 mm tracer shells. 

Bombardment by the artillery would begin at 5:00, while the main assault commenced 25 minutes later. Specially designated projectors signalled “attack” with vertical beams, and the remaining projectors turned on their horizontal beams.  

Improved orientation was indeed achieved. Tanks and infantry in projector-covered regions were superior in movement, as well as more confident, than units advancing in darkness. The enemy remained passive in areas illuminated by projectors, compared to their counterparts in dark areas who illustrated resistance and responded with consistent fire. Enemy infantrymen and artillery resources were exploited by the light beams, which clearly demoralised and demobilised the enemy troops.

Soviet infantry corps adapted amid the battle, successfully reducing dark space by tilting projectors by 65-70 degrees (as partly illustrated by on the image inserted above).

Although the plan was not achieved wholeheartedly and the execution was short of flawless, the rate of advance was extremely fast – the Soviet army was able to advance as fast as 2 km per hour into enemy lines in the middle of the night.

Certain shortfalls did exist, as with any military strategy. In practice, it turned out that a large cloud of dust was created by the artillery fire and remained in the air for a long period of time. Some projectors were unable to penetrate such a persistent aerial challenge, and the penetration of many other projectors was rather shallow. This could have limited the use of projectors at times, although it would be fair to state that they did serve the Soviet army well.

In conclusion, it is fair to assume that Zhukov’s plan did perform efficiently. Such a result would have been expected, given the thorough planning process that the Soviet General ensued. Although clearly not lacking in originality, this type of strategy must be prepared in advance, and it must not be relied upon too heavily given that it was only a supplementary approach, designed to guide and motivate the Soviet troops; the projectors were only able to assist in the defeat of the Nazi forces when combined with existent training, endurance and morale of the Soviet men as well as the leadership skills, experience and established tactical preferences of the Army Commanders.

Who should Crimea belong to?

by Nizami Piriev

The following blog post is a part of a wider section of essays that relate to Crimea. Conducted research and entrenched opinions throughout these essays will refer to a wide range of factors and topics, ranging from the region’s historical significance to the process of Annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation in 2014 and the effects of this predicament. To begin with, I will be discussing ethnic and historical features of the region with a focus on whether Crimea is rightfully Russian, Ukrainian or else. 

Russian claims to Crimea draw from a deep well of historical mythologies that enshrine the region within narratives of religious identity, valorous militarism and Soviet nostalgia. Such claims must be endorsed.  

Firstly, Crimea has an immense significancy to Russia from a religious and spiritual perspective. Back in 988 AD, Prince Vladimir was baptized into the Orthodox Church in none other than the Crimean city of Khersons, marking the birth of East Slavic Orthodox Christianity. Crimea therefore represented the cradle of Russian Orthodoxy and the mythology of the religion’s ties to the Crimean Peninsula remain recognized even to this day. Such a connection between Russia and Crimea is vital for many reasons, such as the symbolism of religion and Orthodoxy to the Russian population. Moreover, the anachronistic nature of this sacred relationship has allowed for an indestructible historic affiliation. More importantly, the assertion of Russian ties to Crimea using religious history has meant a sacred, God-given relationship with the Peninsula. Putin had always implied that Crimea has a deep spiritual significance for Russia and its people, stating that the peninsula has “invaluable civilisational and even sacral importance for Russia, like the Temple mount in Jerusalem for the followers of Judaism and Islam” 

Secondly, the region has a military relevance to Russia, marked by the city of Sevastopol’ and its port. During the Crimean War (1853-1856) the mentioned city was attacked by a powerful blend of Ottoman, French and British forces; yet the Russians did everything possible to resist this assault and defended the city successfully. Sevastopol’ was where Russia’s most celebrated admiral and iconic figure, Pavel Stepanovich Nakhimov, died in 1855, defending his “rodina” (home country). The city of Sevastopol’ was besieged again during the Second World War and it was Russian troops that eventually came to the rescue. Their graves remain visible throughout Crimea and the city of Sevastopol’ even gained the “Hero City” title – a noble grant that was only awarded to a dozen Soviet cities. Russia would continue to lease the port of Sevastopol’ from Ukraine as a base for its infamous Black Sea Fleet after 1991, and its military presence in the area has been playing both a formal and symbolic role in sustaining Russian national discourses about Crimea. Vladimir Putin’s 2014 speech is ever more relevant –  “The graves of Russian soldiers whose bravely brought Crimea into the Russian Empire are also in Crimea. This is also Sevastopol – a legendary city with an outstanding history, a fortress that serves as the birthplace of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet. Crimea is Balaklava and Kerch, Malakhov Kurgan and Sapun Ridge. Each one of these places is dear to our hearts, symbolising Russian military glory and outstanding valour”. 

And lastly, another essential feature of the Russian narrative of Crimea would be the region’s role in the production of Soviet nostalgia. “with its subtropical climate, mountainous landscape, pebbly beaches, and myriad resorts, sanatoria, and summer camps, Crimea was also the epicenter of the Soviet tourism industry, annually hosting millions of vacationers unable to travel outside the Soviet Union” (Charron, 2016). Although one may neglect the significance of tourism, this industry was unique to Soviet (and consequently Russian) citizens. Travelling to Crimea for rest would instigate a familiarity with the region and another sort of belonging to it. As holiday was considered an exclusive luxury, Soviets would have been proud to possess such a sui generis land w2ithin their Union. Therefore, “Crimea has come to symbolize in the Russian popular imagination the loss of an idyllic and romanticized Soviet past” (Charron, 2016) that is more often remembered by Russians than it is by Ukrainians. 

Ukrainian claims to the Peninsula lack the same distinct historical and cultural features. Crimea was linked administratively to Ukraine for the first time only in 1954, and it was largely excluded from any projects of Ukrainian nation- or state-building until after the country’s independence in 1991.  

In my opinion, Ukraine has exploited and manipulated the presence of Crimea in their Empire for their own benefit. Development of the Peninsula was only ensued in economically viable circumstances (a rare occurance). The ethnic diversity of the region has been used by Ukrainian politicians in order to create a phony reputation of tolerance and diversity within their country. No interest has been shown in truly “Ukrainizing” Crimea as business and governance in the region were largely carried out in Russian and curriculums taught in Crimean schools have always been Russia-focused.  

As a matter of fact, Crimea is the only region in Ukraine where Russians are in the majority and it has the highest number of Russian speakers. According to a survey carried out in May 2013, up to 90% of Crimeans spoke Russian at home, compared to the miserable 3-3.5% findings for the number of Ukrainian home-speakers. Even of Crimean Ukrainians, 60% identified Russian as their main language. Ever since 1944, the proportion of Crimeans who identify as Russians has not dropped below 60%; A census just a few months prior to the Annexation indicated almost 50-year high results (68% Crimean citizens identify as Russian); finally, the Annexation itself proved that 96% of the Crimeans wished to formally join Russia. Even allowing for the unreliability of these referendum results, it is clear that the majority of Crimeans would rather speak Russian and identify as Russian rather than Ukrainian.  

Despite such a verdict, the majority of Crimeans prefer to identify as “Crimeans” and depict Crimea as their “rodina” (mother land/ home country). The Russo-Ukrainian dichotomy has led to a further isolation and unlikeness of Crimeans, a people who wish for autonomy and do not care whether their wishes are accomplished by Ukraine or by Russia.  

In conclusion, it is fair to say that although the Crimeans’ inclinations towards self-rule can’t be fully addressed in the given geopolitical circumstances, that is what the general population wishes, according to Austin Charron, author of “Whose is Crimea? Contested Sovereignty and Regional Identity”. However, a challenge Mr. Charron would be unfamiliar and unable to cope with is both the perplexity of Crimean cultural and social belonging and also the abstruseness of the term “rodina” (mother land or home country). Although Crimeans might simply prefer to be Crimeans, they are more willing to tolerate Russian, rather than Ukrainian, rule and link more closely to Russia in terms of historical, cultural and ethnic factors. They are also willing to identify as “Russians” and support Russia, according to around 65% of the Peninsula’s population.  

  • Charron, Austin. “Whose Is Crimea? Contested Sovereignty and Regional Identity.” Region, vol. 5, no. 2, 2016, pp. 225–256., www.jstor.org/stable/24896628
  • Mikulas Fabry, “How to Uphold the Territorial Integrity of Ukraine,” German Law Journal 16, no. 3 (2015): 416-33 
  • Grant, Ag- gression against Ukraine, 108-10 
  • Putin, “Address by President of the Russian Federation.” 
  • Sasse, The Crimea Question, 69-73. 
  • Diane P. Koen- ker, Club Red: Vacation Travel and the Soviet Dream (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2013), 24-26.

Scythia and its Women

by Nizami Piriev

Scythians are a most intriguing people. Their reign persevered for many decades, although they were never a true civilisation in their own right. The available evidence neglects certain vital characteristics, such as the existence of cities or distinct cultivated regions; In fact, when the Persians invaded Scythian land, the defenders denied them an engagement in direct battle and allowed for the excessive pillaging process of their land; the Scythian ruler even communicated with the attackers, only to state that “We have no rich soil, no cultivated land. Go ahead”. Such accounts are most deceiving and even contradictory, given that other chronicles portray Scythians as commonplace traders of wheat, cattle and even rice. Why do such discrepancies between various relevant sources exist? is it because Scythians were sometimes mistaken for some other folk? Could it be that the appeal of soil varied throughout the lands they inhabited? Or, perhaps, they really were poor in terms of cultivated land and traded what was taken from foreigners.

The Scythians were Nomadic people, just like the Mongols, yet their art is most distinctive and unique. They have left a more palpable and continuous mark on the lands they inhabited, such as Southern parts of Kazakhstan, Russia and Ukraine (notably, the Crimean Peninsula). Do have a peak at the included works –

Discongruity exists even in relation to ethnicity and race – the Scythians belonged “either to the Tataric family (Turanian, Mongoloid) or else to the Iranian group”. They almost certainly spoke an Iranian language, albeit having developed their own dialect version; yet did not seem Iranian in their appearance or patterns of habitat. Some of the described physical characteristics pertain to large body mass, with an emphasis on extended bellies that would have been uncommon even for someone of Tataric origin, such as the Mongols. A proposed reason for such complexity is that Scythian men neglected walking and other forms of physical exercise; perhaps a strange fact, given that Scythian women have actually been characterised as hard-working, proactive and strong.

Even more so, Scythian women deserve a full diversion of attention. A proportion of existent data does hint that they did far more work than men; yet one might not fully comprehend what sort of work this entailed. The Scythians were nomadic tribesmen, well-known for their military achievements, especially in relation to archery. Indeed, it was Scythian women that made up a large proportion of the armed cavalry and archaeologists’ findings prove that “over a third of Scythian women died with a weapon”. It was almost exclusively mothers, wives and daughters that tamed horses, composed bows, practised archery and even created armor in Scythian tribes.

As a matter of fact, not only were the deceased females accompanied by knives and daggers but also bore marks of war-injuries, much akin to their male counterparts. Simply put, such discoveries strongly suggest that there were groups of actual Scythian women who match the description of the ancient Amazons.  The so-called ‘Amazons’ pertain to the warrior-women generally associated with Greek mythology. According to Herodotus, beyond sensationalized storytelling and mythology, these women were related to the Scythians and came from the geographical region of Sarmatia (present-day Ukraine). And much to his credit, modern archaeologists have been able to unveil actual pieces of evidence that directly point to how women played a significant role in Scythian raids and conquests. Such findings certainly do prove my previous suggestions considering how active and dominant Scythian women truly were.

The infamous Saka Horse Archers that made opponents feel petrified and fear-stricken at first sight were the Scythians’ main battle asset. Various historians have pointed out the large role that female horse riders would play – these Saka horse units were, in fact, multi-gender. The inclusion of women into the army composition does seem reasonable given that anyone, whether man or woman, can become an accurate archer through continuous practice.

Perhaps Scythia’s most notorious leader was Tomyris (or Queen Tomiri). She led her armies to defend against an attack by Cyrus the Great and, apparently, killed him in battle. The Queen was a formidable warrior herself and possessed both strength and wisdom. Even more so, her followers displayed loyalty and trust, while those rebelling against her rule were very few. This anecdote may prove that powerful Scythian women did exist and they could indeed rise to power and fame, without being questioned constantly by their male counterparts.

From what we apperceive, there was no grand distinction between what clothing Scythian males and females wore. Women in many tribes would incorporate tattoos onto their bodies and inebriate themselves – just like men did.

Strong bonds of sisterhood were a notorious trait in classical depictions of Amazons, although there is no proof to suggest that Scythian women engaged in lesbian relations and such suggestions must simply be dismissed.

“The Amazon Spirit” described by Simon Worrall may be a reasonably accurate recital. The author proclaims Scythian female ideology as one assuming men and women have always been equals and that women “could be just as noble and brave and heroic” as their male counterparts. Greek art serves to illustrate that such portrayals were indeed precise as Hellaic women often admired their Scythian counterparts and embellished them. Archaeological evidence and historic accounts on the Scythian military certainly do concur of such a view – Scythian women were heroic in battle and many possessed status and respect in social circles.

In conclusion, I would like to repeat the vital role of women in Scythian social and militant life as well as everyday endeavours. Perhaps most intriguing is the fact that there is no evidence of hardship and oppression suffered by Saka women, or that their husbands and male relatives disapproved at all of their independence and, one might point out, dominance. There was not even any historic or social backdrop that allowed and encouraged females to develop such tendencies – on the contrary, abuse of women was common place at the time, even in communities similar to Scythian ones (Mongolia, Persian territories). It is indeed unfortunate that existing evidence doe snot allow for a thorough investigation into such a matter. Another intriguing factor is that Scythian women may be perceived as contemporary “feminists” (and not the lesbians that some aristocratic Europeans have labelled them) who did not ask for their independence, but rather gained it themselves. these are tough, militant women who can stand up to themselves and to their tribe – perhaps something that made the Scythians such a formidable opponent.

“Where does our aid spending go?”

By Piriev, Nizami 

Clarification on the topic is required. Aid spending, also referred to as foreign development spending, is when money is spent by the government or government agencies and directed towards low and middle income countries, or institutions such as the World Bank. It must also be defined as a grant, or a loan, that allows the receiver a deal more favourable than a loan at market rate.  

The UK assigns 14 billion pounds annually to the cause. Based on the Office for Budget Responsibility’s projections, the sum will continue to rise steadily.  

The aim has been to accredit 0.7% of UK Gross National Income to Overseas Development Spending. Furthermore, legislation passed in 2015 requires the government to do so. Great Britain has been proud to be one of the select few countries to reach this aim and to assist in lifting masses from poverty. Yet have we reason to celebrate the mentioned accomplishment? 

Liberal politicians would respond to this enquiry in their preferred Stentorian fashion – something along the lines of “why, of course, Aid is sent those who need it most; it is our attempt to scale down on poverty and illustrate our attentiveness”. Yet the reality is paradoxical. 

Desired positive effects of foreign aid spending will not be discussed in this blog post. Achieved positive effects of aid spending will also be evaded, although in practice, there is only a negligible amount of them. 

The possibility of a time lag that limits immediate positive effects of Aid has been declared by experts. In addition to that, the difficulties of measuring the actual direct effects of Foreign Development Spending have been discovered. However, there is sufficient evidence to suggest that more perplexed and arduous factors have been halting expected data on Aid effects (and will continue to do so unless a change of strategy is pursued). 

Real Aid Index states that only 5% of the £765m spent by BEIS and 16% of the £106m spent by FCO went to countries that needed it most (The Guardian, 2016), suggesting an inefficient allocation of Aid. Multiple reasons for such findings could exist, yet all of them hint at the need for urgent re-evaluation of Aid Spending practices. Spending is driven by input targets (IFS, 2018), rather than by output targets, thus “quantity over quality”, if I may be so blunt. Such a strategy entices none other than inefficiency and invites spending that is directed incorrectly. As a consequence, the actual aid allocation is radically dissimilar to the poverty efficient allocation of aid. The only remedy would be to improve aid allocation by targeting the poverty-stricken – a goal that would be perfectly achievable if the funds were directly transferred to local causes in recipient states, rather than passed down through multinational organizations and government structures. Such a pursuit would guarantee lower transaction costs, less administrative time wastage, a lower time lag and more effective poverty reduction as the money would assist the specific citizens that are unable to afford necessities. 

Aid spending mainly finances corruption by ruling political elites and grants them ever more power, instead of reducing poverty. Inequality and poverty can even increase following generous contributions from abroad. Niger, Liberia and Malawi have continued to have very low HDI ratings despite receiving large sums of Aid, due to corruption and poor democracy (The Economist, 2016)Aid economists, Herzer and Morrissey, theorize that “aid has, on average, a negative long-run effect on output”, implying an inwards shift of the long-run aggregate supply and a lowering of the country’s productive potential. They even hint that corruption is the primary reason why output suffers. Moyo also proposes that aid may fail to boost economic performance of the recipients due to repeating corruption, market distortion and increasing aid dependency. Corruption by the ruling elites is a common trait of African and Asian (mostly Middle-Eastern) countries – a harsh reality given that Aid spending is virtually exclusive to the two geographic segments that were just discussed. The presence of corruption only reinforces my proposition of direct Aid transfers not to governments, but to dedicated regional establishments. 

Success of UK’s aid spending will rely on the quality of past and present governance in the recipient state, which is often inadequate in low and middle income countries. As such, many economic fundamentals remain unachieved and it is most likely for this reason that Boone (1996), using data from 96 countries between 1971 and 1990, found that “aid programs have not… Engendered or correlated with the basic ingredients that cause… growth’. Various economic findings, such as those by Burnside and Dollar in 2010, indicate that aid only has positive effects when combined with suitable economic policies such as good information and opened borders; Without such essentials, the ramshackled economies of developing countries will not be assisted by Aid in any productive way. Therefore, it is my assumption that unless policy advice is provided to recipient states, no multiplier effect or visible economic correction will take place.  

Overseas development spending, for example in the form of food aid in emergencies, may even lead to a distortion of market forces, resulting in lower competitiveness of firms which hinders economic gains from food supply. Aid can hinder the emergence of an essential entrepreneurial class in developing economies, possibly crowding out the private sector, without which developing nations will never become internationally competitive. Dambisa Moyo, in her infamous book titled “Dead Aid”, vouches for a sharp focus on developing a private sector as a means to establish fundamental economic conditions that would allow for positive effects of Aid. Perhaps, given that FDI formed 43.5% of capital flows into developing countries in 2010 compared to the 10% accounted for by aid, reforms to attract FDI must be prioritized. Lack of private interest in Ghana has led to the collapse of UK-sponsored factories, so why should aid spending endure? 

Incontestably, there is sound evidence that the donors deviated from initial promises. Self-interest and egomania remain the basics of capitalist principles, thus the UK government must have transgressed too. A brilliant illustration would be the UK’s continued enthusiasm in aiding Nigeria – a country that receives £320 million in bilateral Aid Spending annually just from the Albion. There is no doubt that decision-makers who chose this Aid destination were instructed to support our country’s sovereign interests and to pledge a possible future partner in energy trade that would assign a favourable deal to the UK. It is no coincidence that Nigeria has the second-largest economy in Africa and possesses one of the largest oil and gas reserves in the world, much to Britain’s convenience amid Brexit perplexity, worldwide trade tensions, rising energy prices and worries over economic prospects. Existing evidence has even conjectured that the UK neglected more urgent and vital Aid requests to sponsor Nigeria’s needs. Such cases aren’t uncommon – three of the five largest programmes within the Newton Fund, which aims to develop science and innovation partnerships that promote economic development and social welfare, were positioned in China, instead of focusing on global poverty reduction. And then we wonder why the amassed spending has not delivered. 

Certain spending arrangements have not even ameliorated a single partaker. In Nigeria, a UNICEF-administered education project was found to have made “no major improvement” in learning. Yet despite this clear failure, UNICEF was again awarded funding worth over £120 million to continue the project for a further seven years. In both these cases, British taxpayers’ money has been outsourced to international organisations which have failed to produce the results the government expects. Re-assessment and re-evaluation of the need for multilateral Aid is thus encouraged. European dominions have even supported an Ethiopian women’s music band with restrained coverage – https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2508063/UK-pay-4m-fund-Ethiopian-Spice-Girls-New-aid-project-Yegna-ridiculed.html 

At the moment, £1.5 billion is spent with no transparency. The exact impact of UK Aid spending remains unknown, while hundreds of millions of pounds are assigned every year on aid consultants and administration time is wasted in negotiations/planning. 

Assisting the underprivileged has been a priority for the world elites in recent times. My argument is not to say that the action of assistance must be neglected – I believe it to be intrinsically courteous and even necessary. However, how the aid budget is spent must be re-assessed and re-evaluated, given that the achieved effects are rather unsatisfactory. The Aid budget is very much “our” money, given that it is contributed by the taxpayer and may have otherwise been spent on improving living standards in the UK. We must sincerely hope that a solution will be found soon, while possible relevant policy actions will be proposed by myself in a separate blog post. 

  • Boone, P. (1995). Politics and the Effectiveness of Foreign Aid. European Economic Review. 40. 289-329. 10.1016/0014-2921(95)00127-1. 
  • Burnside, C. and Dollar, D. (1999) – Aid, Policies and Growth – Policy Research Working Papers. The World Bank. doi:10.1596/1813-9450-1777 
  • Collier, P. (2007). The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done About It. Book. Oxford University Press.