Am I Not A Man And A Brother?

I was reading some American History and came across the following phrase from the abolitionist movement: ‘am i not a man and a brother?’

For some reason the phrase really captured my imagination. I found a decent explanation on this site.

The first and most identifiable image of the 18th century abolitionist movement was a kneeling African man.

Members of the Society of Friends, informally known as Quakers, were among the earliest leaders of the abolitionist movement in Britain and the Americas. By the beginning of the American Revolution, Quakers had moved from viewing slavery as a matter of individual conscience, to seeing the abolition of slavery as a Christian duty.

Quakers, who believe in simplicity in all things, tended to view the arts as frivolous; but when the Quaker-led Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade met in London in 1787, three of its members were charged with preparing a design for “a Seal [to] be engraved for the use of this Society.”

Later that year, the society approved a design “expressive of an African in Chains in a Supplicating Posture.” Surrounding the naked man was engraved a motto whose wording echoed an idea widely accepted during the Enlightenment among Christians and secularists: “Am I Not A Man and A Brother?” The design was approved by the Society, and an engraving was commissioned.

The design was symbolic both artistically and politically. In addition to evoking classical art, the figure’s nudity signified a state of nobility and freedom, yet he was bound by chains. Black figures, usually depicted as servants or supplicants, typically knelt in the art of the period, at a time when members of the upper classes did not kneel when praying; this particular image combined the European theme of conversion from heathenism and the idea of emancipation into a posture of gratitude.

Josiah Wedgewood, who was by then a member of the Society, produced the emblem as a jasper-ware cameo at his pottery factory. Although the artist who designed and engraved the seal is unknown, the design for the cameo is attributed to William Hackwood or to Henry Webber, who were both modelers at the Wedgewood factory.

In 1788, a consignment of the cameos was shipped to Benjamin Franklin in Philadelphia, where the medallions became a fashion statement for abolitionists and anti-slavery sympathizers. They were worn as bracelets and as hair ornaments, and even inlaid with gold as ornaments for snuff boxes. Soon the fashion extended to the general public.

There’s some obvious connections to several aspects of our lives today.

Two quotes

My girlfriend is on vacation in California right now… so I’ve spent more time reading online than I usually do. I found this quote in an article off of the Journal of Aesthetics and Protest website….

Jennifer Freyd:

“Ridicule is often a response of those in power when they have little to say in defense of a challenge to the status quo.”

Then last night – while watching The Colbert Show – a guest spoke some words that I know must be someone famous. The guest was talking about the Federalist Papers, but I don’t know if this is Madison or whom:

A nation must protect itself from its own ambition.

Happy 4th of July!!!

Entangling Alliances 2.0

Like many, when I started reading recently about Sovereign Wealth Funds, I was stimulated. Now I KEEP reading about them – they seem to be everywhere in the news. I don’t know why they stick out in my mind, but I tried to figure out why by writing something. This is draft two…. in which I basically compare SWF investment to the secret alliances that caused World War I.

There have been a number of articles recently about Sovereign Wealth Funds. A Sovereign Wealth Fund is an investment fund owned by a sovereign nation. National investment itself is not new. The only thing thats new about Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF) investment is that now countries are directly investing in businesses, not other nations.

Kuwait established the first SWF in 1953. The UAEs fund was established in 1976 and is the largest, capitalized at over 800 billion. Chinas fund, which was established in 2007, is now capitalized at over 300 billion dollars. Theres no complete list, but somewhere between 30 and 50 nations now run SWFs.

From a pure market perspective, we are very happy that these funds exist. Craig Hakkio of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City wrote in the Economic Review (Third Quarter, 1995) that, “Because the United States is dependent on a steady flow of foreign capital to finance its current account deficit, a shift in market sentiment by private investors poses a risk to the U.S. economy. If private investors become reluctant to acquire dollar securities, foreign monetary authorities [can] take up the slack and increase their holdings of dollar reserves.” Extrapolating back to the market, foreign investment exerts a stabilizing influence. When our economy takes a downturn its really great for us that global investors (including sovereign nations) still see the United States as a good bet. Its great that China purchased 10% of Morgan Stanley last week. But some people get worried about China owning Morgan Stanley (just as an example.)

There are some genuinely scary overtones. Satoshi Kamoyashi in his May 24th piece in The Economist, quipped, “the last time governments were this involved in sinking money into private assets, the process tended to be called nationalisation.” However, with US GDP at 12 trillion, total value of traded securities at 50 trillion, and global value of traded securities at 165 trillion, the 3 trillion total of all sovereign wealth funds is not economically significant. Their impact, while symbolically great, is nothing to be afraid of.

George Will (in his Post column on February 3rd, 2008) argued just that, writing, “Remember the patriotic ruckus in 1989 when private Japanese investors bought Rockefeller Center? Remember the frenzied opposition two years ago to the attempt by a company owned by the government of Dubai to become the operator of some U.S. ports?…. Calmness, combined with vigilance, is sensible.” But there are potential political ramifications that go far beyond “Perror” (patriotic-terror) when foreign investment extends into the nations boardrooms.

The last ten years have shown us that individuals and small groups can bring down national institutions. Enron, Worldcom, Barings, and now Societe Generale have all been hit. What happens when some crook does something, or doesnt do something, that really hurts our nation? How would we have responded if Ken Lay had been Chinese or Arab? What if the impact is worse than what Lay did? Our fear should not be investor abuse of power, but our own xenophobia.

I believe there is no cause for actual concern that bad things happening will be caused by foreign governments, but bad things WILL happen. And at the wrong time, in the wrong place, you can bet that the right foreign nation will take the blame. All of this foreign investment does grant these nations influence in corporate governance which, over time, will impact personnel.

There is probably nothing to fear from foreign nationals owning or running our companies. But we should fear our own rage. When trauma – even of relatively insubstantial size – hits a sweet spot, history shows that the results are catastrophic.