By PAUL KRUGMAN
This is a tale of three money pits. It’s also a tale of monetary regress — of the strange determination of many people to turn the clock back on centuries of progress.
The second money pit is a lot stranger: the Bitcoin mine in Reykjanesbaer, Iceland. Bitcoin is a digital currency that has value because ... well, it’s hard to say exactly why, but for the time being at least people are willing to buy it because they believe other people will be willing to buy it. It is, by design, a kind of virtual gold. And like gold, it can be mined: you can create new bitcoins, but only by solving very complex mathematical problems that require both a lot of computing power and a lot of electricity to run the computers.
Hence the location in Iceland, which has cheap electricity from hydropower and an abundance of cold air to cool those furiously churning machines. Even so, a lot of real resources are being used to create virtual objects with no clear use.
The third money pit is hypothetical. Back in 1936 the economist John Maynard Keynes argued that increased government spending was needed to restore full employment. But then, as now, there was strong political resistance to any such proposal. So Keynes whimsically suggested an alternative: have the government bury bottles full of cash in disused coal mines, and let the private sector spend its own money to dig the cash back up. It would be better, he agreed, to have the government build roads, ports and other useful things — but even perfectly useless spending would give the economy a much-needed boost.
Clever stuff — but Keynes wasn’t finished. He went on to point out that the real-life activity of gold mining was a lot like his thought experiment. Gold miners were, after all, going to great lengths to dig cash out of the ground, even though unlimited amounts of cash could be created at essentially no cost with the printing press. And no sooner was gold dug up than much of it was buried again, in places like the gold vault of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, where hundreds of thousands of gold bars sit, doing nothing in particular.
Keynes would, I think, have been sardonically amused to learn how little has changed in the past three generations. Public spending to fight unemployment is still anathema; miners are still spoiling the landscape to add to idle hoards of gold. (Keynes dubbed the gold standard a “barbarous relic.”) Bitcoin just adds to the joke. Gold, after all, has at least some real uses, e.g., to fill cavities; but now we’re burning up resources to create “virtual gold” that consists of nothing but strings of digits.
I suspect, however, that Adam Smith would have been dismayed.
Smith is often treated as a conservative patron saint, and he did indeed make the original case for free markets. It’s less often mentioned, however, that he also argued strongly for bank regulation — and that he offered a classic paean to the virtues of paper currency. Money, he understood, was a way to facilitate commerce, not a source of national prosperity — and paper money, he argued, allowed commerce to proceed without tying up much of a nation’s wealth in a “dead stock” of silver and gold.
So why are we tearing up the highlands of Papua New Guinea to add to our dead stock of gold and, even more bizarrely, running powerful computers 24/7 to add to a dead stock of digits?
Talk to gold bugs and they’ll tell you that paper money comes from governments, which can’t be trusted not to debase their currencies. The odd thing, however, is that for all the talk of currency debasement, such debasement is getting very hard to find. It’s not just that after years of dire warnings about runaway inflation, inflation in advanced countries is clearly too low, not too high. Even if you take a global perspective, episodes of really high inflation have become rare. Still, hyperinflation hype springs eternal.
Bitcoin seems to derive its appeal from more or less the same sources, plus the added sense that it’s high-tech and algorithmic, so it must be the wave of the future.
But don’t let the fancy trappings fool you: What’s really happening is a determined march to the days when money meant stuff you could jingle in your purse. In tropics and tundra alike, we are for some reason digging our way back to the 17th century.
Last Updated on Monday, 23 December 2013 18:23
By Ithaca Bound
“Did you guys not make wish lists this year?” Our older son’s e-mail was brief and to the point, as most of his e-mails usually are. His dialogues with us are pretty much the same way. Say what you have to say and stop. A good habit that more of us would do well to adopt, I think.
My wife and I had different answer to his query. She did have a few things on her Amazon wish list. I did not. I seldom do. At my age, there is little that I need, and not much by way of material things that I want. What I really want, not only for this season of celebration but throughout the year, is not something that one can buy. Rather, it is something that the wisest among us have always urged us to be and so live.
I am reading a particular series of books at the moment, and so I suggested to Rik that he send me a gift certificate, so that I could buy the remaining books in that series and download them onto my IPad, where they are easier for me to read.
The particular series of books to which I refer is Thomas Cahill’s Hinges of History series, a term given to his seven-book series of historical perspective by the author himself. Just this week I began the third book in his very different approach to the thinking about and writing of history. As most of my regular readers know, I have had a life-long interest in the study of history, and Cahill’s manner of presenting what he believes is truly important to an understanding of the subject is unique, indeed. The highly learned seventy-three year old author is nothing if not provocative.
He has spent his long life in the study, teaching, and writing of history and religion, subjects for which he is uniquely qualified, having studied Greek and Latin in school, as well as mastering the ability to read in a few other languages. This allows him to deal directly with what original source material may be available. He has also traveled to and spent time in many of the places about which he writes. You may not agree with some of the conclusions he makes in his writings, but the man has done his homework. The supportive evidence he presents for his conclusions cannot be lightly dismissed. Cahill has enriched my own thinking through such titles as “How the Irish Saved Civilization,” “The Gifts of the Jews,” and “Sailing the Wine-Dark Seas.”
Another writer whose work has provoked much thought is Karen Armstrong. Ms. Armstrong has written many books on the subject of comparative religion and related matter. A former nun who left the confines of the convent because of her increasingly more liberal and mystical views on the spiritual life, she has written and lectured extensively on living the life she believes we were meant to live. As with Thomas Cahill, she has done her homework. (The two of them have spoken together in public forum on at least one occasion. How I would have loved to be in that audience!) Again, you may not agree with her ideas, but, if yours is an open mind, you may find your assumptions challenged by what she writes. Her books include such titles as “A History of God,” “The Battle for God” (A personal favorite of mine.), and “Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life.”
And, of course, there is my constant companion, “Words I Wish I Wrote,” by Robert Fulghum, a former Unitarian minister, and, in my opinion, a master of keeping things simple.
With Christmas Day fast approaching, it is writings by such authors as Thomas Cahill and Karen Armstrong, and, yes, Robert Fulghum, that help to clarify my thinking about what the day really signifies. It is important to get past all the hype and commercialism, all the mythologies, and all the partying, and get down to the very core of its reason for being.
So, send me those gift certificates, my sons, there is so much more to be learned
A blessed season to all!
Last Updated on Thursday, 19 December 2013 19:43
Hello fellow Berlinites. Since the United States did not enter World War I until 1917, many of Berlin's eligible draftees were still being recruited to join the military and all their names were being listed in the front pages of the local newspapers, for everybody to see who was serving.
In June of 1918, the seriousness of the war was being brought home when the funeral of a soldier took place at Cascade. The realization that we were at war was brought to Berlin by the first military funeral of a resident. His name was Arthur Guerin, the son of John Guerin of the Cascades. His funeral took place on Wednesday morning, June 12, at St. Benedicts Church.
Arthur Guerin had enlisted in the US Navy and was at the Naval Training Station in Newport, Rhode Island, where he died of pneumonia. His remains were taken to the Gorham Catholic cemetery. As time went on there were others that would die in either training or battle during the coming year and their funerals would be held here in Berlin, but it took long time in these days to get the bodies and to hear about their deaths from overseas.
During the end of May 1918, a cleanup campaign took place in the city of Berlin and it was a huge success. This cleanup campaign was inaugurated by the Board of Health, the Women's Club, the city departments and the Chamber of Commerce.
There were twenty-two district captains with their large committees that had been busy during the last week of May making sure this was accomplished. They made inspections of all backyards in the city. The inspection report showed that while conditions in many places were not desirable, the tenants and property owners had to take definite steps during cleanup week to tidy up their premises.
Back then, there was a practice of throwing tin cans and rubbish out of the windows, or carting them to another man's property and this was going to be discontinued.
Everyone that had rubbish, garbage or ashes to be carted away had to arrange their schedule in accordance with the schedule of the teams of the Public Works Department during this special week. The schedule was printed in the local paper.
It was reported that the week of May 20, 1918 was the busiest ever experienced by the Department of Public Works to date. It was also the desire of this huge cleanup committee to have everyone follow up this good work and use every method possible to make Berlin a cleaner and healthier city. This must have been quite an accomplishment back then, especially when most of the transportation was still horse drawn.
In July, 1918, Mr. and Mrs. Glen Crockett, Glen Street, Gorham, had received word in a letter from their son Mark V. Crockett, informing them that he was now a commander of the submarine destroyer and expressed regret that he was unable to come home because of the urgency of the war.
Lieutenant Crockett, who was 27 years old at the time, was a student and Maine State University and when he had completed three years, he enlisted (1917) in the Quartermaster Department and served eight months in the Coast Patrol. He was then sent to a training school where he had four months of instruction and received a commission to Ensign.
Once the United States entered the war, Mark was assigned to active duty on a submarine destroyer and soon after was appointed to the command of the same type of craft.
Crockett had written home that he had seen one submarine, but was not allowed to say what took place beyond that point, as there was a lot of secrecy during this war. It was believed that the submarine was sunk.
Mark was the first boy at the University of Maine to respond to his country's call and the part that he took reflected honor to Gorham, the North Country and his parents.
During August of 1918, Berlin had been enjoying the presence of two soldiers of the Canadian armies who had been on detached service here assisting local officials and looking up what were called “slackers” living in this city.
Lance Corporal T. Murphy, 199th Canadian Rangers and Private G. Therriault, 132nd Canadian rangers were both on the invalid list having suffered from gas attacks while doing battle in France. They came for a visit to America and Berlin for some recuperation and to do some investigating. They were due to head back to the front lines shortly after this.
While they were here in Berlin, they found several young man who born in Canada and living here without making any move of being naturalized. They had refused to return to Canada to join the Canadian Army and felt safe in their refusal to bear arms in the American forces.
Because of the great patriotism which existed during this era, these men were characterized as “undesirable citizens” and “men without a country”.
The end of this article stated that Berlin had an enviable record number of men who joined the service or were drafted and sent to the front. For these immigrants who were dodging the draft in both countries, it was said that they would either voluntarily join the colors or feel the hand of the draft. I do not know what became of them.
A headline in the paper at the end of August 1918 explained that every man, woman and child should speak, read and write the English language after coming to this country.
It was addressed to all the patriotic citizens of Berlin and New Hampshire and stated: “Americanization through education, especially for non speaking foreign-born adults and their children was vitally essential for good citizenship, the well-being and perhaps the preservation of our form of government. So, it was believed that every man, woman and child in New Hampshire (as well as in the United States) should be able to speak, read, write and understand the English language”.
I am not quite sure how that worked out in Berlin with the vast French Canadian folks and other immigrants that were coming here back then., as there were probably sections of Berlin were no English was spoken.
Finally, as in the past several years during the month of August, a week long “Chautauqua” had taken place. The Chautauqua was in event that brought entertainment and culture for the whole community with speakers, teachers, musicians, entertainers, preachers and specialists of the day. It took place every year at the YMCA field.
It was quoted as being the “Most American thing in America” back then and was always a huge success when it came to in Berlin.
I will continue with the year 1918 in my next writing.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 18 December 2013 19:54
The Princess Theatre
Hello fellow Berlinites. Main St. has had four great movie houses in its history, but they were never all ran at the same time. Before these places of entertainment went into operation, the Whitney Opera House, which stood on Mechanic St., held many types of acts and functions. Also, there was a huge hall in the Berlin Mills Company Store, which held some attractions.
As Main St. goes, The Albert Theatre (1907) was first, The Gem Theatre (1909), situated on 135-137 Main St. was next. The Albert, which burned, was then rebuilt in 1910. The Princess Theatre (1914) was then erected. The Strand Theatre went into operation in 1937. There were two times in Berlin’s history that three theatres were in operation at the same time. Between 1937 and 1943, The Strand, Princess, and Albert were going strong. Also, 1914 to 1927 The Gem, Princess and Albert were in competition. The Gem Theatre was converted to a bowling alley by 1928.
I have written stories about The Strand Theatre and The Albert Theatre (first one). I will now give you a brief history of the only surviving theatre, after eighty-six years. The Princess was built during 1913-1914. During the month of October 1914, the Berlin Reporter had some stories of Berlin’s newest building. It said that the theatre going public of Berlin would have the pleasure of attending one of the finest places of entertainment in the state. In the planning and construction, no expense had been spared to make it as perfect as human ingenuity and skill could produce. Berlin had always been a good theatre town, and the accommodations have seemed inadequate to the requirements of the city. This new enterprise was built to meet a want that the residents had felt a long time.
The new building was an architectural addition to “The Square”, and made a most imposing appearance. It was said that the influence of such buildings must be to compel the replacing of some other buildings with new structures, comparing favorably with the Princess.
The new Princess had a special ventilation system built within its structure. Besides the many windows in the upper part, this system of ventilation went through the roof and kept the air pure at all times. The seating arrangement was such, that every seat had a perfect view of the stage and it was under the management of Mr. D.H. Campbell, a most experienced person in the field of theatre.
The grand opening took place on October 29, 1914, at 7 PM. On this Thursday evening there was an audience which taxed the capacity of the auditorium to the ultimate limit. The bill of features included, Paramount features, of which there were none better. Also, there was a vaudeville attraction called the Pilgrim Quintette, which was a singing act by five ladies.
In November of 1914, an innovation in theatrical equipment was introduced with great acclaim, by residents in both the Berlin Mills district and the towns of Gorham and Cascade. The latest provision for the convenience of patrons was two electric lamps in front of the stage. One said, “Car for Berlin Mills” and the other said “Car for Gorham”. These signs referred to the trolley service, which passed by.
When a car reached “The Square”, bound in either direction, the lamp went on automatically. This designated which way the car was traveling. The light came on in sufficient time before the car was due to leave “The Square”. It gave those people plenty of time to reach the street without undue haste or hurry. By installing these indicators, the management of the theatre had conferred a favor on the theatre going public. This was duly appreciated by the patrons of the Princess. The Princess ran successfully for almost 30 years. In July of 1943 the doors were closed.
In 1957, a man named John E. Voudoukas decided to remodel and reopen the Princess. It was to have opened before May, but a huge fire which consumed the trucking firm of Lavigne’s Red Wing Express terminal, destroyed the carpets that were suppose to be installed. The new theatre, which was touted to be one of the most modern in New England, had a seating capacity of 500 people. It was remodeled and had the latest stereophonic sound and curved cinemascope screen. It was air-conditioned and had a recreation room downstairs, where a colored television set was installed. On May 1, 1957, a special opening for the Lions Club took place. A film was shown on the Suez Canal.
The headlines in a May 2, 1957 Berlin Reporter said: “Princess Theatre Reopens Tonight”. The new Princess Theatre opened its doors with a grand opening ceremony that night at 6P.M. Although this was forty three years ago, there are probably many people still living here in Berlin who attended this event. The grand opening featured the “New Look” of the Princess. After fourteen years of being closed, this fine theatre was ready to operate again. The management had done a fine job of remodeling.
Now the new policy of the Princess was, not to copy other theatres, but to present to Northern New Englanders the new look in motion picture entertainment. Most of the films that were booked for future performances at this theatre were to be in color and cinemascope, the management stated.
The advertisement for this newest theatre said that the doors would open at 5 PM. and two shows would be held on the opening day, one at 6 PM. and one at 8:45 PM. A Friday matinee was held at 2 PM., plus two shows in the evening. On Saturday, there were continuous shows from 1:30 PM. to 10:30 PM. A free candy bar was given to every child.
So, now in 1957 there were two theatres in operation, The Strand and The Princess. The Albert had previously closed its doors. By Nov. 1961, The Strand was no longer in operation. Now our beloved Princess was the last operating theatre in Berlin. Today, the building is the same, bur the name has changed. Instead of one cinema, there are twin cinemas. Instead of the Princess the marquee says “The Royal Cinema”.
Last Updated on Monday, 16 December 2013 18:36
By Jeff Woodburn
A trip to the attic to gather up the Christmas decorations brought my attention to a box of personal mementos. Among the items was a 30-year-old note from Executive Councilor Ray Burton, who passed away a last month. He was congratulating me on some minor achievement and saying how much he was looking forward to my forthcoming internship. Who would have thought three decades later, I’d have the honor of being his junior partner as the North Country’s State Senator.
I feel his absence and the burden of carrying on our work alone. Every turn offers a reminder and so many people share their “Ray Burton” stories with me. It got me thinking about the lessons that Ray taught me as a young college intern and inspires me as middle-aged State Senator.
Politics is about people. Ray knew that politics was a personal, not ideological business and that power should derive from the people. Issues change, but personal relationships endure and they are the key to success and happiness. To him every encounter bore the seeds of a potential friendship. He was quick to congratulate and never-- ever -- missed a chance to console. It was there were he left his greatest mark. Everyone loves a winner, but Ray made it his mission to be the lonely voice of encouragement during our darkest moments. And here in the North Country, where life can be as tough as any country western song, we’ve all been there. It is no wonder, at Ray’s own lowest point, when the top political leaders asked him to resign, his constituents rallied behind him. But he didn’t rub it in or hold a grudge; he just smiled knowing full well that victory wrapped in graciousness was the best revenge.
Keep your vote in play. Behind his folksy persona, Ray was had a keen political sense and ability to cut a deal to help his North Country. He was practical with his hand always out stretched for any service or dollar that could benefit our beleaguered region and any other politician who would aide his work. Ray was famous for his bipartisan approach and not afraid to be the last remaining liberal “Walter Peterson” Republican. But more than anything, he knew as LBJ used to say, “Power is where power goes” and power goes to politicians who are in the middle and the balance of power.
Always have a list. Most politicians see their role in ideological terms, but not in moving a specific agenda of items forward. Ray was famous for his lists and when he had a governor’s ear or if a governor needed his vote, he referred back to his list. His list always included projects and people he wanted appointed to different government posts.
Much of life is showing up. For four decades, Ray Burton regularly barnstormed his sprawling district like a one-man variety show -- bringing relevance to the seemingly ridiculous. Ray brought a playful pomp and circumstances to his work. I recall one Boston Post cane dedication where he went from presenting a state seal proclamation to the piano to play a tune.
He was renowned for his paraphernalia – “Burton for Certain” combs, oven-mits and fridge magnets; cards with all the toll free state numbers and of course his penchant for photography – first with his vintage instant Kodak cameras and later with the more popular disposable ones. They all ended up in one of the many newspapers in his district or in his own, Burton Reporter.
Ray loved taking to the road in his vehicle known as “Car 1,” or one of his antique cars and touring the North Country. I will miss these tours. They were long days but even when he was sick, he seemed to be rejuvenated by the rhythm of the road and the warmth of the people that he met.
Have fun, laugh often. The bottom line is that Ray was just fun to be around with a quick wit, a twinkle in the eye and engaging joke or little story. He was a larger-than-life character, who just loved life and had an amazing empathy and optimism. I remember our last event before his health turned bad, it was at WLTN’s 50th celebration. I arrived late and the program was underway. He caught my eye and gestured me to come to the front of the room and pulled me close as a group photo – our very last-- was snapped.
Ray Burton’s lasting legacy can’t be found in policies or programs; but rather in people. As Maya Angelou said, “people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
(Jeff Woodburn, of Dalton, represents the North Country in the State Senate and he served as an intern to Councilor Burton while in College in the 1980s.)
Last Updated on Tuesday, 17 December 2013 19:32