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.

A Series of Comparative Analyses with Regard to the Plot, Characters and Themes of Two of the Bard’s Late Romances: The Tempest and The Winter’s Tale

By T. Hangari

(Note to the reader: this work was prepared for a group of colleagues with whom I was studying The Tempest)

I: Plot – Summary of the Events of The Winter’s Tale 

Given that we have already studied the plot of the Tempest both individually and in concert, I find it of no use to recount the events of the play here. I will, however, provide a brief summary of the plot of The Winter’s Tale by way of supplemented quotation from Simon Forman, in his Booke of Plaies and Notes thereof per formans for Common Pollicie (square brackets mine): 

“In The Winter’s Tale […] observe how Leontes the King of Sicilia was overcome with jealousy of his wife [Hermione] with the King of Bohemia [Polixenes], his friend that came to see him, and how he contrived his death and would have had his cupbearer [Camillo] to have poisoned, who gave the King of Bohemia warning thereof and fled with him to Bohemia. 

Remember also how he [Leontes] sent [noblemen] to the oracle of Apollo [to determine Hermione’s guilt], and the answer of Apollo, that she was guiltless and that the King was jealous, etc., and how except the child [a daughter who Hermione gave birth to after being accused of adultery, and who was subsequently sent away by Leontes, who ordered a nobleman, Antigonus, to let her die on a desert shore] was found again that was lost the King should die without issue, for the child [named ‘Perdita’] was carried into Bohemia and there laid in a forest [by the sympathetic Antigonus] and brought up by a shepherd. And the King of Bohemia his son [Prince Florizel, in disguise as a shepherd] married that wench, and how they fled [due to Polixenes and Camillo, disguised, spying on Florizel and disapproving of his marriage to an apparent shepherd’s daughter] into Sicilia to Leontes, and the shepherd having showed the letter of the nobleman by whom Leontes sent [away] that child, and the jewels found about her, she was known to be Leontes’ daughter, and was then sixteen years old.  

Remember also the rogue [Autolycus] that came in all tattered like colt-pixie [mischievous hobgoblin], and how he feigned him[self] sick and to have been robbed of all that he had, and how he cozened the poor man of all his money, and after came to the sheep-shear with a pedlar’s pack and there cozened them [shepherd and his family] again of all their money, and how he changed apparel with the King of Bohemia his son [so Florizel could disguise himself on the way to Sicilia], and then how he turned courtier, etc. […]” 

Forman does not mention a few salient points. 

Leontes, who groundlessly suspects his heavily pregnant wife Hermione of being engaged in an affair, tries her for treason. He denies the oracle’s exoneration of her, leading to the death of his son Mamillius, the Prince of Sicilia, followed by that of Hermione. It is only after these tragedies that he begins to grieve and understand his error. 

Perdita returns to a loving father, after sixteen years of separation, in a deeply emotional scene. Her adoptive family, the Shepherd and Clown, also appear. 

Paulina, the wife of Antigonus (the unfortunate nobleman killed by a bear whilst in Bohemia), is steadfast in professing Hermione’s innocence, and is fiercely critical of Leontes. She later has a statue of Hermione erected, and at the end of the play, through some magic, brings it to life so that Leontes can be reunited with his love.

II: Plot – The Similitude of The Tempest and The Winter’s Tale 

What unites the plots of these two late romances is the topic of this section. Close analysis of both plays reveals that they can be arranged into the following common elements: 

A. Conflict between men of royal rank. 

B. A betrayal by one close family member of another. 

C. Conspiracy to murder a high-ranking nobleman. 

D. A noble female child being sent to live in exile. 

E. A shipwreck. 

F. Festive celebration. 

G. A marriage between the matured, exiled noble female and a prince. 

H. Irredeemable antagonists. 

I. Intervention by magical or supernatural characters. 

J. Travelling between different lands. 

A discussion of a sample of these elements will show that the narrative parallels outlined are veracious. 

A. Conflict between men of royal rank. 

Prospero is involved in a conflict with two men of royal rank. His brother, Antonio, and the King of Naples, Alonso. Leontes, King of Sicilia, is also involved in a conflict with Polixenes, King of Bohemia. 

B. A betrayal by one close family member of another. 

Prospero and Miranda are betrayed by Prospero’s brother – Miranda’s uncle, Antonio. This is not precisely analogous to the injustice present in The Winter’s Tale. In the latter case, Hermione is betrayed by her husband on manufactured charges, and therefore wronged without bearing any personal responsibility for being so wronged. Contrarily, there is a reasonable case to be made that Prospero was, at least partly, responsible for his downfall even by his own account. Aside from the differing content of the betrayals, there is also their form to consider. Prospero’s sudden ejection from Milan is the result of political intrigues between Antonio and Alonso, about which he knew nothing. Hermione, on the other hand, is tried for treason and therefore receives the privilege of defending herself. There is a further difference in the predictable consequences of each of these forms of betrayal. Antonio and Alonso were fully aware that they were banishing Prospero and his daughter to what they believed to be certain death, or otherwise permanent neutralisation of their persons. Conversely, Leontes cannot have been aware that Hermione would immediately die during the trial itself, even if a conviction would have meant death. We may therefore say that Leontes bears less responsibility for his wife’s tragic end than Antonio and Alonso do for an action they believed would be the end of Prospero and his child, in spite of the fact that in the one case, the betrayed actually died, while in the other, the betrayed miraculously survived. 

C. Conspiracy to murder a high-ranking nobleman. 

Caliban, Stephano and Trinculo together seek to violently murder Prospero and usurp his de facto dictatorship on the island. Camillo is ordered by Leontes to poison Polixenes – on the false charge of adultery with Hermione. While these two occurrences are superficially similar, they present several internal variations when analysed in detail. Caliban, Stephano and Trinculo are of very low social station, and stereotypically present themselves as such by their drunkenness and crass speech, aside from their nominal roles as slave, butler and jester. Indeed, Caliban’s simplification of his language from verse to prose in the company of the other two demonstrates this clearly. They are also motivated by a desire for power. This is different from Camillo, a distinguished gentleman who acts on the basis of his oaths rather than destructive passions. Furthermore, Camillo pursues the moral course of deciding not to murder Polixenes by choice, and warns him before they flee. The only reason The Tempest’s conspiring trio do not carry out their murder is because of their incompetence, and Prospero foiling their ill-conceived scheme. We may see a similarity between the base motivations of both Leontes and the trio. The former believes that he must take violent action out of jealousy and vengeance, while the trio act on a desire both for vengeance (in Caliban’s case) and a hunger for supremacy. We may further regard these drives to be on the same iniquitous plane, even if they are not identical. 

D. A noble female child being sent to live in exile. 

Miranda lives and grows up on an island away from her native Milan. Perdita lives and grows up in Bohemia, away from her native Sicilia. Moreover, both live in comparative squalor to what would have been lavish early lifestyles, and are of similar ages once they have grown, Miranda being fourteen and Perdita sixteen. Nevertheless, some qualifications should be made to differentiate the two cases. Miranda lives on a deserted island with only two other characters she interacts with more or less regularly, whereas Perdita lives in a poor community in the countryside, with some social interchange with visitors and others, though her immediate ‘family,’ consists of just two others (the Old Shepherd and his clownish son), as does Miranda’s. Still, Miranda maintains a noble contact in the form of her father and can recall the luxury she used to enjoy. In Perdita’s case, we cannot be sure that she remembers anything about her early life, given the speed at which she was thrown out of Sicilia. Moreover, her only meaningful contact with the aristocracy occurs later in her life, in the form of Prince Florizel, yet even then he is disguised in order to obscure that fact. Perdita is therefore probably much more disconnected from aristocratic practice than Miranda. 

Quite apart from the elements of the plot contained in the narrative construction of the play, there are also some structural similarities between The Tempest and The Winter’s Tale as regards performance. Namely, both plays use a considerable quantity of music and song, the latter more so than the former, with Act 4 containing no less than six songs by my count. 

In the interests of time and equal attention to all parts of the plays under consideration, this marks the end of my analysis of plot, though a similar level of detail could be applied in analysing each of the other plot elements mentioned and may at some other time be completed. 

III: Characters – of The Winter’s Tale 

Having enumerated the most vital of characters in The Winter’s Tale in section I, the undertaking that follows shall be to explain their qualities further and then engage in comparison with The Tempest

Leontes, King of Sicilia 

Perhaps the main protagonist of the play, Leontes’ first appearance in Act 1 Scene 2 demonstrates his talent as a host and his essential kindness. However, between becoming suspicious of Hermione later in the scene, and until Act 3 when she and his son Mamillius die, he is presented as nothing other than a paranoid, demanding and petulant ruler who alienates all at his court (the majority happen to be convinced of Hermione’s innocence, while Leontes remains in the minority). Despite this, Leontes undergoes a great transformation in Act 3, accepts responsibility for his actions and engages in severe repentance and grieving, until he is reunited with both Perdita and Hermione in Act 5. 

Polixenes, King of Bohemia 

A fairly bland character. As a friend of Leontes since childhood, he is horrified to hear about the allegation of adultery against him, along with the plot to murder him, and promptly flees. He takes a less important role for rest of the duration of the play until he finds his son, Florizel, fraternising with Perdita and reprimands him severely, hinting at a short temper. Polixenes does appear in the final scene, and we can assume he is reconciled with the other characters by that time. 

Hermione, Queen of Sicilia 

Throughout the play, Hermione appears as a paragon of traditional femininity while maintaining a palpable internal and external strength. She is loyal to Leontes, forgiving and loving, as well as a caring mother. Yet, she is able to display bravery, confidently defending herself at trial. She is also key to the movement of the plot. 

Perdita, Princess of Sicilia 

Following from her mother, she is beautiful and innocent but does not get to speak very much. Her primary function exists in her relationship with Florizel, and studying her independently is not particularly interesting. 

Paulina, wife of a Sicilian Nobleman 

The most impressive female character in the play. She does not hesitate to confront powerful male characters, including Leontes, and is notably polemical. Unrivalled in her respect for Hermione, she is perhaps her most effective advocate, and turns out to be one of the most intelligent characters in the play insofar as she predicts and tries to pre-empt the terrible consequences of Leontes’ initial actions. It is perhaps for this reason that Leontes swears an oath to her, promising not to get married without her consent, in an odd reversal of gender roles. She is also the only magical character in the play, having the power to bring a realistic statue of Hermione to life.  

Florizel, Prince of Bohemia 

A young man more interested in love than conforming to social standards, he is more than willing to take Perdita’s hand when he thinks her a shepherd. In disguising himself over a long period as Doricles, he shows humility and purity of heart. He is probably one of the more righteous characters in the play. 

Camillo, Sicilian Nobleman 

Camillo is an honest and diligent man, who distinguishes himself as an intelligent operator in the courts of both Polixenes and Leontes. He is one of the first to state his scepticism with regard to Leontes’ irrational fear of Hermione’s unfaithfulness, and follows his conscience rather than the maniacal order to kill Polixenes. Steadfast in his moral principles, he assists Florizel and Perdita, advising them to escape to Sicilia, despite being in service to Polixenes. Hence, while he may defy the traditional mode of following royal orders, he does so out of moral duty, and helps actively to facilitate the play’s positive conclusion. 

Autolycus, a Rogue 

With a name that translates to ‘the wolf himself,’ Autolycus is an unapologetic criminal, able to happily take from the very poorest in the social hierarchy, consisting of the Old Shepherd and his son, as well as the richest. Ironically, he inadvertently ends up helping the poor family by directing them to join Florizel and Perdita in Sicilia. He formerly served Prince Florizel in some high-status capacity. 

Note that this is not an exhaustive list of the characters that appear in The Winter’s Tale, but rather my selection of those most purposeful for the part that follows. 

IV: Characters – The Similitude of The Tempest and The Winter’s Tale 

This section shall concern those characters in both plays that can be best aligned in personality, position and development. 

Prospero as an Enigma 

Trying to produce a concrete link between Prospero and one of the characters of The Winter’s Tale presents some challenges. Chief among these is that Prospero himself is such a synthesis of varied traits that the potential for comparison with nearly every character is endless. For instance, we may attempt to align Prospero best with Leontes. Both are the apparent main protagonists of their respective plays, yet, their position in the plot varies immensely. Leontes is never actually betrayed, but Prospero is. Should this bring him in closer proximity to Hermione? If we pursue that comparison, it will likely eventuate in the admission that Hermione cannot be said to have the same temperament as Prospero, nor is she ever thrust into a similar position of abandonment – instead she is always believed morally pure by the entire court of Leontes, with the exception of Leontes himself, though even that changes by Act 3 of the play. Perhaps Prospero could be compared with Polixenes, another important royal, as one who is wronged unjustly and has a short temper. Yet Polixenes never loses his high status, a key part of Prospero’s development. All of this confusion has proceeded without introducing the understanding of Prospero as a magician, in which respect he can only be compared with Paulina, but this does not even begin to help shed light on how he uses his magic to force other beings to carry out his will. If this comparative analysis is to be based upon the personality, position and development of characters, it seems that we will not find a significant or helpful link for Prospero that involves all of the abovementioned categories. Rather, it seems that Prospero is unique insofar as characters from The Winter’s Tale can only be compared with a few of his attributes and not his whole self.  

Miranda 

She is evidently parallel to Perdita. They are of similar ages, are forced to leave their homes, are of noble lineage, live in poor conditions, marry wealthy princes, and are traditionally feminine in portrayal, being primarily kind and emotional characters. Neither of them is a particularly important character in terms of plot: both receive relatively few lines. In terms of the minor differences between them, it is possible to assert that Miranda is more powerful and confident than Perdita, as she is courageous enough to reprimand her powerful father and defies his wishes in seeing Ferdinand and trying to assist him. Perdita does not appear so assertive. 

Antonio and Sebastian 

The best analogue for Antonio and Sebastian, in The Winter’s Tale, is probably Autolycus. This is because of their status as ‘irredeemable antagonists,’ mentioned in part II on plot. These characters are completely unapologetic about the evil in which they have indulged and remain selfish until the end. The one significant difference may be that Autolycus professes this candidly to the audience, revelling in his immorality, whereas Antonio and Sebastian are more secretive. The pair’s silence at the end of The Tempest is open to interpretation. 

Alonso 

Leontes is most like Alonso. Both cause a rival to flee to a different land, both are kings, and both come to regret the actions they took and become truly repentant about them. The content of these characters is therefore more or less the same, though we do not ever seem to see Alonso’s more abrasive side in the same way that we can observe that of Leontes between Act 1 Scene 2 and Act 3 of The Winter’s Tale. It is also true that both, though they grieve and develop, never permanently lose anything of importance, like family, but recover what they have lost after having learnt their lessons.  

Ferdinand 

Closest to Florizel. Both are princes, both end up marrying the noble women who have been living in exile. Their personalities are similar; essentially, the pair are eloquent, righteous and loving. But regardless of these facts, they are separated by two main qualities. First, one works against the wishes of their father (Florizel), while the other does not. Second, one may have been coerced into love, by magic or otherwise (Ferdinand), while the other has not been forced to love in any way. 

Gonzalo 

As experienced courtiers of renown, little separates Camillo and Gonzalo. Aside from the honesty, wisdom and kindness that both display, they are also clearly guided by a moral compass, which sometimes differs from the demands of authority. Camillo will not poison Polixenes, in the same way that Gonzalo will not send away Prospero without his books, provisions and garments. Although some superficial differences in behaviour can be found between the two – for instance, Camillo is slightly more ethically responsible in refusing to do wrong, going so far as to abandon his country for over a decade, while Gonzalo takes no such extreme action – they are still pure characters at the core. 

Caliban, Trinculo and Stephano 

Once more we are presented with a medley of different character traits which make it difficult to establish clear comparisons. There are no slaves in The Winter’s Tale, the closest parallel would be the multiple servants who attend the royalty in the play. The Clown and Trinculo may be compared, though the former is certainly of higher moral status than the latter, to the extent that they are not as similar in content as they are in form. Caliban, with his unique heritage and colonised condition has no real likeness in The Winter’s Tale. Stephano does not seem to be easily comparable to any of the major characters in The Winter’s Tale either. If we are to reduce the attributes of these characters down to being of low rank, then perhaps we can make some comparisons. The Old Shepherd, the Clown etc. are virtuous, and this is perhaps recognised by the fact that they gain the title of gentlemen by the end of the play, indicating their basic goodness. This is not the case for the low-ranking characters of The Tempest. 

Ariel 

It is difficult to produce a comparison for Ariel due to him being a supernatural creature. In terms of his simple moralism, he may be compared with the Clown. If we seek to treat him as part of a metaphysical plane, beyond material reality, then we may compare him with the character of Time. 

V: Themes of The Winter’s Tale and their Correspondence with Themes of The Tempest

Jealousy 

The motor of the entire plot of The Winter’s Tale is the jealousy of one man: Leontes. One of the interesting characteristics of this emotion is that it intersects various levels of Leontes’ existence: his marriage, his friendship and even his status as a ruler.  
This can be explored further by looking at what Polixenes says in reference to his thanks for the hospitality shown him in Sicilia:  

“Nine changes of the watery star hath been  
The shepherd’s note since we have left our throne  
Without a burden: time as long again  
Would be filled up, my brother, with our thanks;  
And yet we should, for perpetuity,  
Go hence in debt: and therefore, like a cipher,  
Yet standing in rich place, I multiply  
With one ‘we thank you’ many thousands more  
That go before it.”                               (I.2.I-9) 

This mention of a “debt,” so exceedingly large such that it cannot be paid, is likely the cause of Leontes’ sudden schizophrenic suspicion – the “debt,” perhaps being seen by Leontes as a cryptic reference by Polixenes to his non-existent crime. At any rate, this quotation indicates that hospitality is not merely a matter of generosity, but contains some form of economic or social calculation, and consequently is somehow competitive. Leontes’ best friend, Polixenes, is therefore not merely a friend, but a rival, creating a sense of insecurity for both. 

How can we understand this given the themes of The Tempest? Jealousy certainly plays an important role: for one thing, why did Antonio overthrow Prospero? Aside from the assumed hunger for power, can we not ascribe some jealous motive to one charged with the responsibilities of leadership without receiving the full benefits of its title and ceremony? There is a serious argument to be made that Prospero was selfish to maintain his title as Duke while taking little to no practical role in governing his dukedom. Similarly, why does Prospero take punitive action against his persecutors? It is quite possible that he only wants revenge. But if he is truly uninterested in “worldly ends,” why would he be so eager to regain his former position? Is there not some jealousy in his motives? On the island itself, we find one of the clearest examples of a jealous character in the form of Caliban. He is, of course, victimised, and his envy of Prospero may be partly justified, but this does not change the fact that he is jealous. Caliban is unhappy with Prospero’s position as ruler and conveys this plainly. He mourns the possibility of having been his “own king.”  

Redemption and Forgiveness 

The Winter’s Tale concludes with what can only be described as a happy ending, whereby the troubles of the characters, irrespective of their faults, are resolved with impunity after short-lived grief.  

“There was casting up of eyes, 
holding up of hands, with countenances of such 
distraction that they were to be known by garment, 
not by favour. Our king, being ready to leap out of 
himself for joy of his found daughter, as if that 
joy were now become a loss, cries ‘O, thy mother, 
thy mother!’ then asks Bohemia forgiveness; then 
embraces his son-in-law; then again worries he his 
daughter with clipping her; now he thanks the old 
shepherd, which stands by like a weather-bitten 
conduit of many kings’ reigns. I never heard of such 
another encounter, which lames report to follow it 
and undoes description to do it.”             (5.2.46-55) 

In the above quotation, one can see how all the decent characters of the play are joined together, in a wondrous display of mercy, forgiveness and ultimately love. This cuts across the classes of characters and excuses the moral implications of their actions in favour of sentimental unity.  

This is reminiscent of the final scene of The Tempest, where the recently shipwrecked and residents of the island are gathered together, and compassion prevails over vengeance. But the same reconciliation does not seem to occur. What do Antonio and Sebastian think about all of this? What about Caliban? The answer is wholly ambiguous. The only certainty is that Prospero has decided to limit himself to the punishment he has already given his prisoners. In The Winter’s Tale, the process of redemption seems to be more collective. 

Nature and Nurture 

In The Winter’s Tale, one of the key tests for the conflict between nature and nurture is the character of Perdita. By nature, she comes from a royal womb – of a virtuous woman no less. By nurture, she has been raised all her life by a shepherd and his son. It is under these circumstances that Prince Florizel finds himself deeply attracted to her – but what is the part of her existence which dominates? The natural, noble part of her being, or the humble goodness that has been nurtured into her by the poor kind family with which she lives? Some indication of the answer is given by these lines:  

“This is the prettiest low-born lass that ever 
Ran on the green-sward: nothing she does or seems 
But smacks of something greater than herself, 
Too noble for this place.”   (4.4.I56-I59) 

Polixenes here suggests that something about Perdita is superior to the environment in which she lives or has been nurtured. In brief, this implies that nature is more important than nurture as a determinant of one’s characteristics, as nature supersedes nurture in appearance. This is affirmed in the following quotation: 

“the majesty of the 
creature in resemblance of the mother, the affection 
of nobleness which nature shows above her breeding, 
and many other evidences proclaim her with all 
certainty to be the king’s daughter.”   (5.2.35-40) 

Once more, nature is what defines Perdita’s character. She has some innate disposition to “nobleness,” which is not a product of her upbringing by a good family but the product of her birth.  

This theme also clearly exists within The Tempest. Miranda does play a similar role to Perdita, but perhaps more explicitly in this case. The test of nature and nurture in The Tempest is carried out with not one participant but two: Miranda and Caliban. Both have presumably been nurtured by the same father (at least initially), the same influence, who has taught them the same language etc., but they manifest wildly different life outcomes, the one being compassionate and free, the other being enslaved and turning evermore bitter. The explanation from Prospero is nature – Caliban is

“‘a born devil, on whose nature/Nurture can never stick.’ (4.I.179-I80) 

At first sight, it therefore seems that in The Tempest, too, nature predominates. But Miranda has an interesting observation of her own, in relation to Antonio’s crime against his brother: 

“Good wombs have borne bad sons.” (I.2.I20) 

Antonio and Prospero were also born from the same mother, but one of them turned out bad, and the other ostensibly good. But is the difference between them so clear? If we hold fast to the predominance of nature, then they are either both good, which seems implausible, or they are both bad, which is far more plausible based on popular readings of the playNevertheless, Miranda’s statement offers multiple interpretations, not confined to ones asserting the primacy of nature. On the one hand, she could be claiming that nature is indeed essential, in acknowledging such a thing as a “good womb,” but that there is a margin for error in nature’s operation. On the other hand, she could be suggesting that nature is meaningless: a womb has no influence on the quality of the son, but rather the son’s character forms independently. If we are to proceed even further, we could claim that Miranda’s statement is itself confused, as whether “good wombs,” and “bad sons,” refer to natural qualities, or qualities borne out of personalities created in social environments, is left unclarified. 

VI: Conclusion 

The above sections have endeavoured to trace, in some detail, the different parts of The Winter’s Tale while also providing a compendium of associations with its fellow late romance play, The Tempest. It follows that Shakespeare’s late solo-authored works are indeed to some extent conterminous, though identifying a sine qua non for a play’s entry into this genre of his work remains difficult without a complete analysis of the rest of the plays in this category.

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.

Is poverty ending around the world?

by T. Hangari

In order to answer this question, we must proceed to analyse three subsidiary points in detail. The first point requires us to discuss the World Bank’s approach to global poverty, which has guided much of the public debate on the topic. The second point is to decide on what would constitute an accurate measure of poverty around the world. The third point requires us to calculate the consequences of such a measure, and whether these consequences indicate decreasing global poverty.  

I – The World Bank’s Approach 

A World Bank press release from September 2018 reads: 

“The percentage of people living in extreme poverty globally fell to a new low of 10 percent in 2015 — the latest number available — down from 11 percent in 2013, reflecting steady but slowing progress, World Bank data show. The number of people living on less than $1.90 a day fell during this period by 68 million to 736 million.” 

The comment of then World Bank President Jim Yong Kim suffices to express the thought of many public figures on global poverty, from Bill Gates to Steven Pinker:  

“Over the last 25 years, more than a billion people have lifted themselves out of extreme poverty, and the global poverty rate is now lower than it has ever been in recorded history. This is one of the greatest human achievements of our time.” 

Of course, Kim’s remarks are qualified by mentioning a slowdown in the decline of world poverty, as well as the need for continued investment and growth to maintain good levels of poverty reduction. Nevertheless, the general picture is that humanity has, to a considerable degree, successfully tackled the problem of poverty over the last few decades. 

Before proceeding further in this discussion, it is important to specify what exactly the World Bank means by poverty. Currently, the international poverty line stands at $1.90 at 2011 purchasing power parity. In other words, if you earn $1.90 or more at 2011 purchasing power per diem, you are not counted as impoverished by the World Bank. The question of deciding upon a reasonable poverty line is by no means insignificant. Numbers like those quoted above, which hinge on the current international poverty line, can have a critical impact on the public perception of poverty around the world, especially when these statistics come from a large international institution. Consequently, we must carefully look at whether the current international poverty line is justifiable in the light of the available evidence. 

II – Measuring Poverty 

Is it possible to live on $1.90 a day? If so, it would constitute a reasonable international poverty line. If it is impossible to live on $1.90 a day, then it is evidently not a sensible poverty line and we must therefore question the World Bank’s usage of this benchmark. As an aside, the current figure of $1.90 is simply an adjustment of an older international poverty line of $1.25 to accommodate changes in the purchasing power of the dollar. Firstly, the $1.90 poverty line informs us that about 700 million people today are living in poverty. It is interesting, then, that 820 million people globally are undernourished, defined as those who do not have enough caloric intake to meet their minimum energy requirements, and 1.3 billion people cannot regularly access “nutritious and sufficient food,” as reported by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation. Any person equipped with the rudiments of logic should understand that the number of people in poverty cannot be defined as less than the number of people without enough food to sustain normal human standards of living. A sensible international poverty line would include those who are not earning enough money to feed themselves. Indeed, according to the US Department of Agriculture, $6.70 a day is the minimum possible on which someone can maintain adequate nutrition. Other pieces of evidence further demonstrate the insufficiency of declaring $1.90 as the international poverty line. For instance: even when living on $1.90 a day, infants in Niger have a mortality rate three times higher than the global average. 

Peter Edward, a researcher at Newcastle University, elucidated in a 2006 paper on formulating an Ethical Poverty Line that, in order to achieve a normal human life expectancy of just above 70 years, the poverty line used by the World Bank would need to be increased by 2.7 to 3.9 times. Given the World Bank’s adjustments, this has been calculated to leave us with a far more reasonable poverty line of $7.40 a day. At this point it is worth noting that still other scholars on this topic, such as economists Lant Pritchett and Charles Kenny, have stated that an accurate international poverty line should be near double that – something around $15 a day. At any rate, if we apply the reasoning behind the ethical poverty line and use the $7.40 measure, we are left with a picture of global poverty which starkly contrasts that presented by the World Bank. 

Lastly, it is notable that even the World Bank confesses that the $1.90 poverty line is not useful for policymaking: “A country’s national poverty line is far more appropriate for underpinning policy dialogue or targeting programs to reach the poorest.” Insofar as a measure of poverty is not useful for policymaking, it must be asked whether it is useful at all. How can the data such a measure produces be touted with any confidence? 

III – The Consequences of Measuring Poverty Realistically 

Jason Hickel, an anthropologist at the University of London, has written lucidly on the need to change our measure of poverty – and the disappearance of the illusion of progress when poverty is measured more accurately. He says: 

“If we use $7.40 per day, we see a decline in the proportion of people living in poverty, but it’s not nearly as dramatic […]  In 1981 a staggering 71% lived in poverty.  Today it hovers at 58% (for 2013, the most recent data) […] 

“And if we look at absolute numbers, the trend changes completely. The poverty rate has worsened dramatically since 1981, from 3.2 billion to 4.2 billion, according to World Bank data.” 

In addition, with the use of the $7.40 poverty line, even the proportional reduction in poverty of 13% since 1981 vanishes when China is excluded from the data.  

Hickel continues: 

“From 1980 to 2000 […] the number of people in poverty outside China increased by 1.3 billion. In fact, even the proportion of people living in poverty […] increased, from 62% to 68%.” 

Based on mathematical calculation and the usage of an appropriate poverty line, two observations follow:

  1. The quantity of those in poverty globally is not decreasing but increasing when measured in absolute numbers. 
  2. The World Bank’s current international poverty line is an inaccurate and unhelpful measure. 

Trying to lay out the reasons behind the above two observations is beyond the scope of this essay, which has simply attempted to answer the question of whether global poverty is indeed being reduced, as is often claimed. Nonetheless, at the very least we can say with some certainty that the current global economic order is not meeting the basic needs of billions. We can also speculate that the World Bank’s boasting of vast poverty reduction, while it has continually failed to use a sound measure of poverty, means that many people have been misled into thinking our world is in a much better condition than it is. The uncompromising retention of the $1.90 global poverty line, despite the exhortations of several experts on the need to change it, could actually hamper efforts to deal with the problem, as proceeding from such shoddy data is an exercise in futility.

In fairness, the World Bank has made some steps to collect poverty data differently, with new poverty lines for lower middle and upper middle income countries – though these are both lower than the $7.40 poverty line needed to reach a normal human life expectancy:

“Starting this month [October 2017], the World Bank will report poverty rates for all countries using two new international poverty lines: a lower middle-income International Poverty Line, set at $3.20/day; and an upper middle-income International Poverty Line, set at $5.50/day. This will be in addition to the $1.90 International Poverty Line – which remains our headline poverty threshold, and continues to define the Bank’s goal of ending global extreme poverty by 2030.”

Yet the misleading $1.90 IPL remains stubbornly placed at the centre of the World Bank’s poverty reduction goals and is the “headline,” poverty threshold. If we are to articulate rational solutions to world poverty, more accurate data on the subject must be adduced.

Notes 

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/jan/29/bill-gates-davos-global-poverty-infographic-neoliberal

https://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2015/nov/01/global-poverty-is-worse-than-you-think-could-you-live-on-190-a-day

https://www.jasonhickel.org/blog/2019/2/3/pinker-and-global-poverty

https://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/poverty/brief/global-poverty-line-faq

https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2018/09/19/decline-of-global-extreme-poverty-continues-but-has-slowed-world-bank

https://blogs.worldbank.org/developmenttalk/international-poverty-line-has-just-been-raised-190-day-global-poverty-basically-unchanged-how-even

https://blogs.worldbank.org/developmenttalk/richer-array-international-poverty-lines

http://www.fao.org/state-of-food-security-nutrition/en/