(Interviewed by Louis James, Editor, International Speculator)
L: Doug, our savior Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize for boldly intending to wage peace. Really. Any day now. I know you must have some thoughts on this… Did you lose your lunch when you saw the news?
Doug: : I was having a rather gruesome nightmare before waking and seeing the news – then I wished I could go back to sleep. No such luck; it was real. My first thought was that it was a spoof from The Onion that somebody had swallowed. Or maybe a comic doing a riff on Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds broadcast. Those politically correct morons in Oslo really did give the man the peace prize for nothing more than stating intentions that are contradicted by his actions.
L: Such as?
Doug: The unconstitutional detention of individuals convicted of no crimes in Guantanamo Bay continues. The war in Afghanistan – a country that never attacked the U.S. – continues, and may even escalate if General McChrystal gets the troops he asked Obama for. The war in Iraq – another country that never attacked the U.S., and we all know now that the WMD scare was a lie – is keeping the reaper busy. Obama is given much credit for scaling back plans for future missile defense spending, but reports have it that the military itself had already requested a reduction in that program, citing higher priorities.
Besides, the nomination deadline was February 1st, just days after Obama took office, so you know his nomination can’t have had anything to do with actual accomplishments. And the fact of the matter is that Obama has not done a single thing to actually implement a more dovish military policy. In fact, it’s not unlikely all the chaos in Central Asia will morph into a civil war in Pakistan. That’s especially likely if either the Israelis or the Americans – I’m not sure who’s the puppet and who’s the puppet-master – attack the Iranians.
The U.S. doesn’t appear to have a “defense” policy, only an “attack” policy. They really should rename the Department of Defense. Calling it the Department of War, as we did the DoD’s predecessor, pre-1947, was much more honest, if not pretty.
L: Well, he talks about peace a lot. I guess we shouldn’t be surprised, in a world dominated by moral relativism, in which intentions and feelings matter more to most people than deeds and facts.
Doug: Yes, and there’s precedent. Don’t forget that Al Gore won the peace prize in 2007. I confess that as low an opinion as I already had of the Norwegian Nobel Committee after they gave peace prizes to the likes of Yasser Arafat, Shimon Perez, and Yitzhak Rabin in 1994 (all of whom might as easily have been tried for war crimes), I was shocked and disgusted to see Gore get one.
All evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, part of my brain still likes to think that Nobel Peace Prize recipients should be almost preternaturally endowed with virtue. I would much prefer to have seen that Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at Bush get the prize; at a minimum, he is a man of courage and conviction.
L: Well, after all, Gore is the genius who invented the Internet – I’m sure he must have thought about proposing to study the possibility of intending to do something peaceful, if elected president…
Doug: No, no; he got a peace prize for terrorizing children around the world about global warming.
L: Ah, yes. I’m sure they determined that all the Gore family enterprises have a significantly smaller carbon footprint than average.
Doug: I’m sure looking at the facts was the farthest thing from any committee member’s mind. The Nobel Peace Prize committee is a bit different from the others, being appointed by the Norwegian legislature, instead of the usual Swedish science academies. They seem to love political hacks above all others, even though an exceptionally popular and politically correct commoner like Mother Theresa can occasionally get the nod.
I actually met Al in 1980, when he invited Herman Kahn to debate me before (I think) the Senate Caucus on Technology and the Future. The whole story of that encounter, in four-part harmony, is in my book, Crisis Investing for the Rest of the ‘90s. But I met him again not long before he won the peace prize, at a lunch with some friends at the Aspen Institute (a prestigious but highly constipated establishmentarian outfit in Colorado). Normally, I don’t bother celebrities in public. What’s the point? They’re usually just ordinary people who are famous for being well known. But since we’d met previously, I wanted to get an updated read on the man, so I walked over and said “Hi.”
Not knowing that I was of the “Pave the Planet” persuasion, Gore was friendly and pleasant. Could I see into his soul, the way Bush thought he could do with Putin? No. My only impression was that he should lose a little weight. But that hardly made him unique…
Anyway, when I’d met him 29 years ago, he reached out to me. I had just given a gloom-and-doom speech (I was wrong, while Herman, who correctly foresaw the subsequent Long Boom, as he called it, was right). But Al wanted to talk to me, since my views reinforced his own. He’s always been, I think, psychologically receptive to some great disaster teaching us all a stern lesson. The economy didn’t do the job back then, but maybe climate change will now.
But Al and his thoroughly bogus thoughts on carbon, anthropogenic global warming, and the like are yesterday’s news (for more on this, folks who missed it should see our conversation last week on global warming). Obama’s prize is iron-clad evidence of just how corrupt and utterly meaningless the Nobel Peace Prize has become. The odds are overwhelming they gave it to Obama because he happens to be black and they happen to be stupid and corrupt. But in the Alice in Wonderland world we live in, there’s a long-shot chance they have a quirky sense of humor and gave it to him to draw perverse attention to how warlike he actually is, and embarrass him into acting less like Bush…
L: Seems to me that the Nobel Prizes in general have become nothing more than a popularity contest these days. In our world of politicized science and other human endeavors, a Nobel Prize could actually be a contrary indicator to the kind of creative, original thinking needed to make a real breakthrough of any kind.
Doug: Yes, and the Nobel Peace Prize itself needs debunking. If Obama can win it for good intentions, they should give a special posthumous prize to Princess Di, because she wanted to give the world a hug and buy everybody a puppy.
L: Let them eat cake and have it too. (For free – as long as you ignore the man behind the tax curtain…)
Doug: Right. As I see it, like the prizes for literature and economics, the peace prize is awarded according to the totally arbitrary and, to my view, often irrational and self-indulgent opinions of the judges. As I said before, most of the recipients are political hacks. If you look over the list, you see a bunch of names unknown to almost any modern readers – and rightly so. A few are people I’d like to learn more about, but most wouldn’t be worth the time it would take to skip over their names.
Let’s just look at a few of the better-known winners – or more egregious choices – to see what the track record tells us. Things started off fairly well in 1901, when the first Nobel Peace Prize was split between Frédéric Passy, founder of the first French peace society, and Jean Henri Dunant, founder of the International Red Cross. But then, in 1906, Teddy Roosevelt won for drawing up the peace treaty between Russia and Japan.
L: The guy who led the “Rough Riders” in the Spanish-American War won a Nobel Peace Prize?
Doug: Yes, it’s odd. Teddy had, to all accounts, great personal charm, style, and numerous accomplishments, but he was a horrible president – very statist and economically collectivist, and certainly one of the most warlike.
It gets worse: in 1919 Woodrow Wilson won one. That’s an all-time low that will be hard to beat… But never say never – Mussolini, Hitler and Stalin were all nominated. Wilson got it for founding the League of Nations. The fact that Wilson was single-handedly responsible for World War I going on as long as it did and ending with the disastrous Treaty of Versailles was apparently of no concern. I’m convinced that if it hadn’t been for America’s pointless entry into that war, the French, British, Germans, and Austrians would likely have signed a reasonable and much earlier treaty. Subsequent history would have developed quite differently – perhaps with no World War II and no Soviet Union.
L: I find it interesting that they gave out no prizes during the thick of WWII. I know there were actual advocates of peace back then, like T.H. White, author of The Once and Future King, but that would have been unpatriotic (politically incorrect), wouldn’t it?
Doug: Yes, the prize money went mostly back into the main prize fund. But speaking of WWII, in 1953, George Marshall won a peace prize for his Marshall Plan, which is unjustly credited with Europe’s recovery from World War II. What should be credited are the investments made by American corporations and individuals into productive enterprises in Europe. The Marshall Plan was just a gift from American taxpayers to socialist European governments. Worse, it served as a model for subsequent decades’ worth of almost completely counter-productive foreign aid – perhaps the equivalent of a trillion of today’s dollars.
L: And there have been more warmongers and political posers since then.
Doug: Sadly so. There was Kissinger, who should have been indicted for war crimes, who split the prize with Le Duc Tho in 1973. But Tho was principled enough to decline the prize.
Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin split it in 1978 for peace in the Middle East. Both accumulated a lot of blood on their hands throughout their lives. I think a better choice in this regard would have been the U.S. taxpayers who, since then, have given Egyptians and Israelis hundreds of billions in bribes not to kill each other.
One of the crowning ironies of the history of the Nobel Peace Prize, in my opinion, was when Gorbachev won in 1991 for bringing the Cold War to an end. What really ended the Cold War was the economic collapse and dissolution of the USSR, which Gorby – a hard-line communist who subsequently went into the ecology business – tried his best to prevent.
A medal, a million dollars, and an E for Effort. It’s really funny; he migrated from communism to ecology, from one scam into another, and gets a big payday instead of being pilloried.
L: What about the good guys? Do you give the committee a break for any of the deserving recipients?
Doug: Well, to me, the most deserving ever was the brilliant Muhammed Yunus, who founded Grameen Bank. Capitalist enterprises like Grameen (along with technology and good ethics) are what will bring peace and prosperity to the world, not blathering politicians, who are the majority of the recipients.
And, in spite of my generally negative view of charity, as a matter of principle as well as of practical consequences, I’ve got to approve of the prizes for Amnesty International (1977) and Doctors Without Borders (1999).
L: That’s it?
Doug: Hmmm. Other deserving winners, but with reservations, I might add are Albert Schweitzer (1952), Martin Luther King (1964), Andre Sakharov (1975), Mother Teresa (1979), Lech Walesa (1983), Elie Wiesel (1986), the Dalai Lama (1989), Aung San Suu Kyi (1991), and Mandela and De Klerk (1993).
[Ed. Note: For a complete list, see the Nobel web site: http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/ ]
By the way, my old friend Leon Louw of the Free Market Foundation of South Africa (http://www.freemarketfoundation.com) has been nominated several times, and I think he deserves it.
L: Could a hard-core free-marketeer like that actually win?
Doug: If Obama can win, anybody can win. It’s a function of being the right cliché at the right time, which I admit Leon is not likely to be anytime soon. But who knows, when the dust settles after the coming economic collapse (it’s not over by a long shot), things might be different. Maybe Obama deserves it for keeping McCain, who likely would have been an even bigger disaster than Bush, out of office. Even the wildest conjectures are well within the realm of possibility. The whole thing is so… goofy.
L: Okay, so… The Nobel Committees are not actively evil, just so politically correct as to have rendered themselves meaningless.
Doug: That’s the way I see it.
L: Any investment implications to this?
Doug: Only as a straw in the wind. If you see economists who advocate more government intervention in the economy winning the prize in economics for their help “saving” the global economy, you’ll have yet more reason to batten down the hatches for harder times to come – and opportunities to speculate, given the probable outcomes of those distortions.
L: Okay then, we’ll watch for that. Thanks for your time.
Doug: Sure thing – till next week.
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