Monday, June 22, 2015

Why we allied with Soviet Russia during World War II, and then fought against it later on

It's often cited as one of the great ironies of history - that the United States and the Soviet Union were allies during World War II, and then enemies during the Cold War. Why is this?

We were fighting against a greater enemy during World War II, which was Nazi Germany

The answer is long and a bit complicated, but essentially it boils down to this: We in America allied with Soviet Russia during World War II to fight against a greater enemy (Nazi Germany) that had actually declared war on us, when Soviet Russia had not. Later on, we watched with horror as the poor countries of Eastern Europe were passed from one dictator (Hitler) to another (Joseph Stalin), and reluctantly realized that the Soviet Union could be every bit as threatening as Nazi Germany had been; and fought hard to prevent its expansion into any further territory.

Adolf Hitler

Joseph Stalin

The common theme in our dealings with the Russians was America's national interest

These ideas might seem incompatible: Allying with the Russians during one five-year period, and being enemies with them for more than forty years after that. Yet the alliance and the later conflict both had a common theme in them, which was America's national interest. It was served by an alliance of necessity during World War II, and an opposition of equal necessity during the Cold War period.

Russian Revolution of 1917

Friday, June 12, 2015

A review of PBS's movie "George H. W. Bush"

George H. W. Bush

Surprisingly sympathetic

PBS made a three-hour documentary about the life of the first Bush president, George H. W. Bush (not to be confused with his similarly-named former-president son). The film was surprisingly sympathetic to him, perhaps because his moderate economic Republicanism was more agreeable to the liberal PBS filmmakers than the conservative economic Republicanism of his predecessor Ronald Reagan, or his son George W. Bush.

US fighter wing during Desert Storm, 1991

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

What history can tell us about economics

I've had a number of people tell me over the years that with my interest in history, I should have been a history teacher. Thus, it's often surprising for them to hear that I majored in business instead. I also got a certificate in economics, which might likewise seem very different from history. And it's quite true that economics and history are two very different majors. But there is actually some overlap between the subjects - more than you might think - and so your average economics class has more history content than one might suppose.

What is the overlap between these things? In short, there are two main areas where they intersect: the history of economics, and the economics of history. The history of economics is the history of economic thought - or the history of the social science of economics, and how people have attempted to find answers to important questions about economics. It has roots going back far before Adam Smith, but the modern social science of economics began with this great individual's magnum opus in 1776 - a book called "The Wealth of Nations." It is one of the great books of history - up there with Isaac Newton's Principia - and it has had an enormous influence on the way people think about economics. (Here's my blog post about it, if you're interested.)

Adam Smith

The economics of history, on the other hand, is about the various economic problems that societies have faced; and their various attempts to find solutions to these problems. History is rife with economic case studies that show us which policies work and which ones don't, and a good economist tries to learn from the lessons of economic history. I have talked about the history of economics in a number of posts, so I will instead focus this post on the economics of history - about the economic case studies my classes have talked about, and about what history has to offer us in the way of practical experience with economic policy.

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