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August 24, 2007

Times Watch

First, just as Voltaire noted that the French needed to shoot the occasional admiral from time to time to encourage the others,

The rest is very good, on the way in which having risk spread around the world is a good idea, not a bad one, and that regular purging does the capitalist system no end of good. For, how are we going to find out what is a good or a bad idea unless someone tries it and then makes or loses money on it?

But the admiral thing? That was actually said about the English: Admiral Byng to be precise. Tsk.

August 24, 2007 in Telegraph Watch. | Permalink

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Comments

Hasn't Gerard Baker heard of Google?

Posted by: Chris White | Aug 24, 2007 10:27:58 AM

Hence the expression "Byngo!".

Posted by: dearieme | Aug 24, 2007 10:32:07 AM

Thanks to Google, the actual context extracted from this vernacular translation of Chp 23 of Voltaire: Candide, reads:

. . .

As they [Candide and Martin] were chatting thus together they arrived at Portsmouth. The shore on each side the harbor was lined with a multitude of people, whose eyes were steadfastly fixed on a lusty man who was kneeling down on the deck of one of the men-of-war, with something tied before his eyes. Opposite to this personage stood four soldiers, each of whom shot three bullets into his skull, with all the composure imaginable; and when it was done, the whole company went away perfectly well satisfied.

"What the devil is all this for?" said Candide, "and what demon, or foe of mankind, lords it thus tyrannically over the world?"

He then asked who was that lusty man who had been sent out of the world with so much ceremony. When he received for answer, that it was an admiral.

"And pray why do you put your admiral to death?"

"Because he did not put a sufficient number of his fellow creatures to death. You must know, he had an engagement with a French admiral, and it has been proved against him that he was not near enough to his antagonist."

"But," replied Candide, "the French admiral must have been as far from him."

"There is no doubt of that; but in this country it is found requisite, now and then, to put an admiral to death, in order to encourage the others to fight."

http://www.literature.org/authors/voltaire/candide/chapter-23.html

The context makes it abundantly clear that the reference is to the execution of an English admiral [in 1733], not a French admiral.

Candide is an amusing, highly recommended read. Without reading Candide, it's impossible to encounter and understand passing literary/philosophical allusions to the character of Dr Pangloss and his obsessive conviction that we must live in the best of all possible worlds which, as Voltaire comments in Candide, makes it challenging to comprehend the impelling logic of the devastating Lisbon earthquake of 1755.

Posted by: Bob B | Aug 24, 2007 11:16:34 AM

There is an irony here, as Baker's view, that recessions are good from time to time, used to be characterised as "panglossian economics", didn't it?

Posted by: Matthew | Aug 24, 2007 12:39:20 PM

"recessions are good from time to time"

There's a challenging piece in tomorrow's The Economist arguing for the cathartic benefits of occasional recessions and suggesting that the Fed could do some good by ceasing to bail out the financial system from the consequences of bouts of imprudent lending.

See: Does America need a recession?
http://www.economist.com/finance/displaystory.cfm?story_id=9687245

I have to admit, The Economist makes a convincing case and Martin Wolf has argued something similar recently in the FT but recessions can inflict serious social pain and they aren't necessarily easy to escape from - as Japan discovered in the 1990s.

Posted by: Bob B | Aug 24, 2007 8:39:34 PM

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