The World Turned Upside Down

Thomas was quite a fortunate man.  At a time when the vast majority of people worldwide were born into precarious poverty or ascribed servitude, he found himself a member of his society’s nobility, privileged with property, wealth, and high status.  And in an era when most ‘noble’ families across Europe were in fact little more than illiterate local warlords living in crude stone strongholds, Thomas lived in the richest, most ancient and culturally vibrant city of its age- Constantinople.

Growing up as a member of the Byzantine nobility, Thomas was accorded a fine, well-rounded education. He was no doubt aware that his was a society with a rich intellectual heritage stretching back directly to Socrates and Plato.  He knew the grand history of his home city, the center of a society that had been thriving and successful for a thousand years-  an almost unimaginable length of time for an advanced civilization to exist intact.  One imagines that as Thomas dined at the fine hereditary estates of his fellow noblemen on the outskirts of the city (some of them passed down through the same lineage for 30 generations), or when he walked ancient streets paved seven or eight centuries earlier, he must have acquired a sense of the longevity and permanence obtaining to his world. 

As he attended events at the legendary Hagia Sofia - not only the greatest and most elegant architectural masterpiece in existence in the world at the time, but one of the most exceptional buildings ever built by human hands in any age – Thomas must surely have had every reason to believe this greatness, into which he had so fortuitously been born, would always be the way of things, continuing during his life as it had for century after century before him. 

How extraordinary, then, that Thomas was there to witness his world turned upside down.  His account of the destruction of his city and civilization is one of the few surviving firsthand descriptions of the Fall of Constantinople, recording the moment when a thousand years of continuity suddenly and violently ceased to be continuous.  Here, in part, is what our friend ‘Thomas the Eparch’ recorded:

“The Turkish emperor Mahmet encamped in front of the Gate called St Romanus before which he placed his cannons: the projectile of the first cannon had a circumference of twelve spans and those of the other cannons a circumference not much smaller; he deployed them at a distance  from the gate. After they had come close to the city, during the night they brought up a war machine with ten thousand men and the cannons behind it.

…At dawn on Monday, 29 May, they began an attack that lasted all night until Tuesday evening and they conquered the city. The commander of the Genoese, who was leading the defense of the breach, pretended to be wounded and abandoned his battle station, taking with him all his people. When the Turks realized this, they slipped in through the breach. When the emperor of the Greeks saw this, he exclaimed in a loud voice: My God, I have been betrayed! and he suddenly appeared with his people, exhorting the others to stand firm and defend themselves. But then the gate was opened and the crush of people became such that the emperor himself and his ninety one thousand men were killed by the Turks and the traitors.  Afterwards, the Turks ran to the Hagia Sophia, and all those whom they had imprisoned there, they killed in the first heat of rage. Those whom they found later, they bound with a cord around their neck and their hands tied behind their backs and led them out of the city.

…Then they destroyed all the sacred objects and the bodies of the saints and burned everything they found, save for the cross, the nail, and the clothing of Christ: no one knows where these relics ended up, no one has found them. They also wanted to desecrate the image of the Virgin of St Luke by stabbing six hundred people in front of it, one after another, like madmen. Then they took prisoner those who fell into their hands, tied them with a rope around the neck and calculated the value of each one. Women had to redeem themselves with their own bodies, men by fornicating with their hands or some other means. Whoever was able to pay the assessed amount could remain in his faith and whoever refused had to die. The Turk who had become governor of Constantinople, named Suleiman, occupied the temple of Hagia Sophia to practice his faith there. For three days the Turks sacked and pillaged the city, and each kept whatever he found, people and goods, and did with them whatever he wished.

The world turned upside down, indeed.

I believe that you and I, here in the present reading this essay over the internet through our wifi connections on our phones or Macbooks, may well have more in common with Thomas than we might comfortably admit.  Like him, we in the Western world were fortunate enough to be born into a civilization that was wealthy and prosperous (or at least appeared so).  Like him, the governance of our lands has increasingly been co-opted by a massive, unwieldy, and self-serving bureaucracy that somehow manages to accomplish less the larger and more expensive it becomes (the origin of the phrase Byzantine bureaucracy, after all).  Like Thomas, our education and literacy has allowed us to know and understand our place in time and our civilization’s largely illustrious (and occasionally barbarous) history to the degree that we can picture ourselves in the present as connected to the continuum of the past.  Being aware of this history, and being blessed to have lived most of our lives in nations or world regions that were at the top of the economic and political heap, like Thomas we have every reason to believe that the world we have known during our lives will continue into the future.  It is possible, however, that the end of the great Keynsian experiment means that like Thomas  we may well be witnesses to our “World Turned Upside Down”.  That is the subject of this blog.  So let’s define a few terms, stake out some intellectual territory, and get cracking!

What is this part of TFRM about?

Given this background, the core animating ideas of my area here are that:

  1. Over the last 40+ years, a Keynsian easy money policy throughout the western world has resulted in mal-investment on a gigantic scale that has yet to be fully recognized for its depth and breadth.
  2. The intense, almost frantic acquisition of gold by China, Russia, and other producer-nations recently, signals the rise of a new monetary regime and world power structure that rejects the paradigm that has allowed Western Central Banks to create value for themselves for free at the expense of producer-nations.
  3. When this new economic structure comes to fruition, a ‘Great Unwinding’ of those 40 years of debt, deficit, and civilizational mal-investment will have to take place, and this end of the Keynsian experiment will be an unsettled and difficult time. 
  4. Ultimately, our goal is to get ourselves and our loved ones through this looming period of systemic instability as best we can.

I envision this area of TFMR as ‘An extended commentary on the end of the Keynsian experiment’, but make no mistake; if this place is to be a success, that commentary will be far more from you than from me!  My goal is to provide posts that stimulate discussion, foment good-willed and good-natured argumentation, and occasionally make people see things in a new light.  In other words, I would like this to be a place where you can expect to read interesting things and perhaps to learn something.  I’ll admit, this may prove extremely difficult given the intelligent awareness and knowledge-base of the people who frequent this blog, but I am going to try. I hope you will help me.

So what is “on-topic” here?  I welcome any and all commentary on current events and discussions of the intersection between economics and politics (and I plan on examining numerous subjects from an explicitly Austrian economics perspective).  I hope we can discuss how is / will the end of the Keynsian experiment play out and what can we do to prepare for the great unwinding of western debt, from precious metals to investing strategies.  I also think it is important to explore how increasingly desperate statist apparatchiks will react to this unwind, and how we might prepare our strategies for avoiding and surviving their perfidy. I plan on writing occasionally on my efforts at self-sufficiency and small farming, and welcome any related discussions or articles.  Basically, anything that helps us mentally explore how to prepare to survive the greatest unwind in the history of mankind is welcome here.  Finally, those of you who have followed my posts and photoshops here at TFMR will not be surprised to learn that I plan to seek out the humor in the utter absurdity of our predicament, and to occasionally raise a big bold middle finger of defiance to those who got us into this mess yet still insist we follow their prescriptions like good little serfs. To hell with them.  It is my sincere hope that you will find this place worthwhile, and that you will be encouraged to hang out and contribute your 2-cents to the free-ranging discussion. 

To finish this up, you may wonder what happened to our friend Thomas?  It seems that he somehow managed to survive the fall and destruction of Constantinople, and eventually escaped the city with his friend Joshua.  A small note at the end of his account states “All this was made known by Thomas the Eparch, a count of Constantinople, and Joshua Diplovatatzes.”  Aside from the account itself which suggests that he was able to escape to the west to record it, this cryptic note at the end is all we have.  Nothing else is known of the ultimate fate of ‘Thomas the Eparch’, survivor of the Fall of the Byzantine Empire and the sack of Constantinople.  Did he see the fall coming and “Prepare Accordingly” and was this the reason he was alive to record this account? Or was he merely one of many thousands of destitute refugees who fled during the shattered aftermath, but whose literacy and former social status lent his account sufficient authority for it to be deemed worthy of recording?  We will never know. 

What we do know, however, is that the events Thomas witnessed contributed to the rise of our own world in a surprisingly direct way.  After the fall of Constantinople, a flood of literate refugees and highly educated Byzantine scholars made their way west and many of them wound up in Italy.  Their knowledge of the classical Greek world, their books, sources, and familiarity with the intellectual titans of the ancient Greek and Byzantine world, directly fuelled the Italian Renaissance.  This flowering of scholarship and knowledge, in turn, led to the growth of humanism, science, and individualism in the western world- and these ultimately gave rise to the very western prosperity that ‘the end of the Keynsian experiment’ now threatens.  In a very real sense, the end of Thomas’ world was a starting point for the rise of ours.  Will we bear witness as the world turns upside down once again for us, as it did for him?  I guess we’ll see.   

58 Comments

John Galt's picture

Wow

Did not expect to ever see this happen!

tyberious's picture

nice!

nice!

dgstage's picture

I am Amazed

Keynsian experiment has lasted this long and the world as we know it.

AlienEyes's picture

three ?

three ?

No, but four's ok.

PuraVida's picture

GUEST POST HIT PARADE

This is freaking sweet! XTY, GL, and Pining with poignant posts in one afternoon! Giddy Up!

Cononish1314's picture

I remember looking through

I remember looking through historical atlases at maps of the dwindling Byzantine Empire. I thought "Why can't they see what's happening? Why don't they do something?" Of course, there probably weren't a lot of map-readers or -makers in those days, but even so, some people were being paid to do these things. Not that you need to be paid to know when you're surrounded.

Xty's picture

Pining!

Top notch, where a parrot should perch.

This is indeed a treat.

sengfarmer's picture

thank you pining

Much food for thought.

RationalMind's picture

Great article!

Well done. I like the call to share explicitly on the envisioning and preparing for the end of the Keynesian experiment. That's the premise for this thread. If others disagree, please take it offline to a forum. Thanks.

thesandbox's picture

This Keynesian economy...

It's just sleeping. wink

Byzantium's picture

Nice article Pining

and seemingly, perhaps, just maybe, links to a chapter of history of interest to myself  ;-)

tmosley's picture

History is one of my favorite

History is one of my favorite subjects.  The Byzantine empire is one of the most interesting empires in history, yet so few know anything about it (despite there being plenty of information about it available).  Of interest to this community is that during its thousand+ year history, it remained on one of the strictest forms of  gold standards there is--the currency was actual gold coin, issued by the government, and never debased until the very end.  

They went off of their gold standard to fund military adventurism abroad, which drained their economy to the point that they were left vulnerable to the Turks and their more advanced weaponry.  The Turks also blew it, for the most part, as their military adventurism bought them a gigantic empire, but stagnated their economy until they finally collapsed after WWI.

Strongsidejedi's picture

death star run

Hollywood pales in comparison to the real thing.

But, it's Friday y'all.

Hammer's picture

A good one from the

A good one from the Heatmeister - choppy presentation but if you pay attention closely

John Galt's picture

@ thesandbox re: This Keynesian Economy....

(Using my best John Cleese voice)

Is just sleeping you say? 

I'd say that it's feet have been nailed to the perch. 

It is dead. It is an ex-economy. Thanks to central bankers it is no more.

Perhaps it is simply Pining for the Fjords.

DeaconBenjamin's picture

He knew the grand history of

He knew the grand history of his home city, the center of a society that had been thriving and successful for a thousand years- an almost unimaginable length of time for an advanced civilization to exist intact. One imagines that as Thomas dined at the fine hereditary estates of his fellow noblemen on the outskirts of the city (some of them passed down through the same lineage for 30 generations), or when he walked ancient streets paved seven or eight centuries earlier, he must have acquired a sense of the longevity and permanence obtaining to his world.

Reminds me of Chapter 1 in Nissam Nicholas Taleb's Black Swan where he discusses growing up in a multiculturally diverse Lebanon -- a society that everyone understood could never shatter or splinter into civil war.

49Pan's picture

Saving this.....

Gonna save something for the weekend and it might as well be this.

Later and have a good/great weekend all you Turdites!!!

Strongsidejedi's picture

Brief recent history on Turkish bank notes

http://www.turkishculture.org/general/monetary/banknotes/banknotes-195.htm

The first Turkish banknotes printed by the 'Thomas de La Rue' company in Britain were put into circulation by the Ottoman Bank on 5 December 1927. Meanwhile on December 4, 1927,the 'Evrak-i Nakdiye' (cash documents) already in circulation, were withdrawn and lost all their value on 4 September 1928. Since the Republican Administration was determined to transfer the privilege of issuing banknotes from the Ottoman Bank established by foreign capital to a National Bank, the Turkish Grand National Assembly enacted Law 1715 on 11 June 1930 for this purpose. When the necessary preparations were completed, the National Bank began operating on 3 October 1931. With the establishment of the new Bank, the banknotes in circulation, amounting to 158.7 million liras were transferred to the Central Bank and in return, treasury bonds with a 1% interest rate were bought from the Government. As a result of the adoption of the Latin alphabet in 1928, the withdrawal of banknotes from circulation with the Arabic script began to be debated and as of 1937 new banknotes in Turkish printed in the Latin script were put into circulation by the Turkish Republic's Central Bank as an E-2 series. The banknotes put into circulation by the Central Bank were printed in the US, England and Germany until a banknote printing house was established in 1958."

see also http://www.turkishculture.org/general/monetary/coinage/ottoman-period-coins-613.htm

There is a reference to the Koch brothers.

Utilitarian's picture

@ Thomas

Dear Thomas,

Why were you not ready?  Really, you were the last of the Roman Empire!  (Or today the Anglo-Saxon empire/ Danish Monarchs)  The Turks already took over the lucrative trade and patiently waited to starve out your little stronghold.  You had too much debt and allowed your religion to become political.  Maybe, instead of calling your first lady a whore, you should have looked closer at her gnostic religious belief.  Then you might have questioned the validity of your path.

Now for the bigger question!  Why is a serf like myself not ready?  I read the words of this site, but somehow really think I will be OK.  I have not followed Santa’s plan and gotten completely out.  I have only put my toe in the water of everlasting knowledge. 

Why am I not ready?  Scared, stupid, one of the sheep, keeping my head in underground, or simply hoping my country will survive and do what is right.  I am here, which means I want my country to survive, but as Dagny Tarrget stated “Ready to rebuild after the dust settles”.  I simply want to survive after the dust settles.  Sadly, I feel the saxophonist ex-Federal Reserve Chairman not only wrote about the coming collapse but got his job to assure the collapse starts right here!

Sincerely,

Your faithful serf

Turd, thanks for your humble offerings

sierra skier's picture

What a great parabal

This is a great way to compare our current situation to historical situations. History provides previews to almost everything we experience now days and this should give us a preview of our future. Thanks Pining

theBuckWheat's picture

Keynesianism excuses what comes naturally for the State

I once asked the Austrian scholar Peter Klein why Keynes was so successful.  He told me that his theory gave politicians and lovers of ever-bigger government the theoretical framework that justified what they wanted to do anyway.  The heart of the issue is that infinite money (via infinite currency printing and unlimited perpetual debt)  enables a infinite State.   And to pay for it all, the citizen's private wealth and private income must be encumbered with claims that originate with government.   This comes most clearly in the form of taxes, then in the embezzlement of private wealth via inflation of the the currency that government forces everyone to use (via legal tender laws), and then by requiring citizens to pay the interest on the debt that government racked up to pay for "benefits" like welfare, ObamaPhones and endless wars.  

We are being enslaved by our own lusts for freebies and being made serfs from which escape cannot be allowed lest nobody can be forced to service the debt.   And the power brokers are all too happy to either make wealth producers happy because of the promise of lower taxes, and at the same time to make the dependent class happy because of the promise to "full invest" in the future of X program, which of course is just one of many "vital and unmet needs". 

The left loves to scold the rest of us on the subject of "sustainability" while the grandest scheme of theft in all of human history that funds the left cannot be sustained for very much longer.   Great will be the fall thereof.

ref:

Did Keynesian Economics Win the Battle of Ideas? | Peter G. Klein

Keynesian Economics: The Beast That Won't Die | Peter G. Klein

Pining 4 the Fjords's picture

@BuckWheat

Thanks for sharing that and bringing those links to the blog-  I need to find out more about Klein, he is one I haven't read.  And FWIW, I agree with you- it seems to me that Hayek genuinely crushed Keynes on the merits of the arguments, but Keynes was telling people in power what they wanted to hear so he was lionized and ultimately knighted... typical.

And I wanted to thank everyone  for the wonderful comments, posts, and links- you people are the best!  I really think this is going to fun, and I hope to give you some good content here- I'm going to try, anyway!

Vernon Wormer's picture

Good read

Thanks for sharing Pining. Keep up the good work.

jaw777's picture

We need a good cold war

I remember clearly what it was like as a young child growing up in the 70s after the end of the Vietnam war.  My father had been drafted and served his tour around my conception.  He spent just under 6 months on the line, was wounded three times and received the Purple Heart. He never spoke to me about what he saw during the war until I was in my 30s and then it was still a lot for me to comprehend. My mother's biggest fear was that I could be drafted when I turned 18. I do remember registering with the selective service. I don't believe we have to do that anymore, seeing as how the government knows where I live, how much I make, who I call and text and soon my complete medical history. If they need me, or now my son, they will probably just send for me.

Anyway, the point of my comment was that we need a new cold war.  I remember the fear I felt as a child in the late 70s when we discussed the Soviet Union's nuclear arsenal. I recall my teacher showing us a film of the nuclear attacks on Nagasaki and Hiroshima.  And at another time telling us that our parents were taught to get under their desks in the event of a nuclear attack. Even as an 8 year old I realized how stupid it would be to hide under your desk when an atomic bomb went off, unless it was just to kiss your ass goodbye. 

The cold war was the best. We get to spend a ton of money making the defense industry rich and our young men and women do not have to go to a foreign land to be killed, maimed, or psychologically injured.  We eliminate the legacy costs of the war.  Our government can just keep us living in fear.  Maybe that was the problem with the cold war. We weren't significantly afraid enough any longer for our government to keep controlling us the way they wanted. If we quit sending our young men and women overseas I promise I'll hide under my desk when they set the sirens off.

The best way to end these bullshit wars is to go back to the draft and not allow for the ROTC alternative.  When our politicians and celebrities and corporate CEOs have to risk the lives of their own children, these wars and police actions will come to an end.  

California Lawyer's picture

Pining - Excellent Post

Great post.  One of my most favorite.  I am sad to admit that I have a dearth of knowledge on history from this era.  Heck, I don't even know how to spell Byzantium.  I had to spell check it.

I love the interweaving of history with the present.  I hated history as a kid, but now I hunger for all I can get. Keep the insights coming, I most appreciate them. I also enjoy your telling of the story in first person, present tense.  It makes the story come alive.  I feel like I was there.  What a great story.

Anyhow, try not to take all the readers and posters for yourself on your blog.  Can I have a few regulars for mine?  

Just kidding.  

Keep up the brilliant work, and take care my friend.

boomer sooner's picture

Most excellent!

I have a yearning for history.  Love to here what you know and understand.  Heck of a day to come home to.

A.B.'s picture

For those how like to see Constantinople during 1800's......

Dear friends, these are from my personal collection for you to enjoy.

They are all original engravings of the city, made by Mr. Preziossi and Mr. I. Melling around 125 years ago.  Both their works are regarded one of the best of their time and very hard to come by. Mr. Melling was invited to the city by the Ottoman emperor Selim himself and during his stay he and the emperors sister fell in love. He lived most time in the palace which was a big Deal. 

During this time engravings are the closest thing to a photo. So it is art and historic document. 

Hope you will enjoy as I do....

Xty's picture

re Constantinople in the 1800's

A.B.  Those are fantastic.  I love the boat in the middle one.  And the fortified town so visible in the last.  You are right, there is a lot of history lurking in there.  Must be a pleasure to own, indeed. 

Pining 4 the Fjords's picture

Those are genuine treasures AB

The engravings themselves are antiques and great examples of a top-quality production process that no longer exists, the pictures are genuine artworks beautifully rendered, and as if that weren't enough they record a moment in time more than a century ago that, in turn, contained buildings and architecture some of which was over a thousand years old.

Just amazing-  thank you so much for sharing those here!  History is endlessly fascinating to me, and historic architecture seems to have a particular pull on my heart.  My wife and I live in a house built in 1788 that was taken apart board by board to save it from demolition.  We rebuilt it (a post for another day) and are slowly hunting for antiques to fill it, one piece at a time as we can afford. A lifetime process, but one we love.  Artwork has been one major gap, but maybe I need to look into these types of engravings...  I am a fan!

murphy's picture

Pining

Another top shelf post, the only type you are capable of it seems. Kudos again.

Add me to CL's list of an ignorant student of history, especially European. Why is it that when we were in school they taught it in a way to make it as uninteresting as possible? Once again the American education system doing what they do best. 

Also @ Utilitarian, well said. I'm sorry to say I am also on your list as wellwink.

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