One of the peculiarities that most strikes visitors to Turkey is the pervasive presence of a political leader who died more than seventy years ago. Every classroom in every school, every office in every government department has his picture on the wall; every public square in every village, town and city has a statue prominently placed. Our tendency is to feel that there must be an element of compulsion involved. How can a free people willingly engage in such idolatry? Certainly other nations have their founding heroes, but I can think of none who holds the place in his people’s hearts that Mustafa Kemal Atatürk holds in the hearts of the people of Turkey.
But how do you rank them? What criteria would you use to determine their impact on the world? If you go for population size of their countries, Gandhi and Mao Zedong top the list. On the other hand, if you think in terms of global economic and military power today, and the lasting effects of his legacy, it’s hard to go past George Washington. When it comes to personal sacrifice and commitment to a cause, Mandela, and once again, Gandhi look pretty good. Take the business model of time and motion effectiveness and Bismarck got the job done quickly, which suggests impressive personal power and influence.
The General Conference,
Convinced that eminent personalities who worked for international understanding, co-operation, and peace, should serve as an example for future generations,
Recalling that the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Mustafa Kemal Atatûrk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey, will be celebrated in 1981,
Bearing in mind that he was an exceptional reformer in all the fields coming within UNESCO’s competence,
Recognizing in particular that he was the leader of one of the earliest struggles against colonialism and imperialism,
Recalling that he set an outstanding example in promoting the spirit of mutual understanding between peoples and lasting peace between the nations of the world, having advocated all his life the advent of ‘an age of harmony and co-operation in which no distinction would be made between men on account of colour, religion or race’,
1. Decides that UNESCO shall co-operate on the intellectual and technical planes with the Turkish Government for the organization in 1980, at that Government’s financial expense, of an international symposium designed to bring out various aspects of the personality and work of Atatürk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey, whose action was always directed towards the promotion of peace, international understanding and respect for human rights;
2. Requests the Director-General to take the necessary steps for the implementation of this resolution.
‘The greatest political and military victory cannot last and is doomed to fade away quickly unless it is crowned by an economic victory.’
Something you won’t find in such histories of economics is reference to a debate that shook the world of finance in the 1920s and 30s, and continued in some countries well into the 50s and 60s. This was the question of where money actually comes from. As Galbraith says, and everyone knows who pauses to think for a moment, ‘money’ is not an easy concept to tie down. Clearly the notes and coins in our wallets are a small part of it. There are the bank deposits that we may or may not choose to call on with our chequebooks and ATM cards. There are the credit cards with their generous limits that we may or may not choose to make use of. There are the personal loans for cars, houses and holidays that my bank often offers me, of which I may or may not avail myself. Some economic thinkers and politicians after the First World War were of the opinion that what they called the ‘nation’s credit’ should be under the sole control of the state.
|John A Lee - |
my favourite New Zealander
The thing is, it wasn’t really Savage who did it. The mostly forgotten architect of the scheme was a First World War hero, charismatic orator and self-educated economics whiz-kid by the name of John A Lee. Despite being a major factor in the Labour Government’s electoral success, he was overlooked for ministerial appointment, and thrown the under-secretaryship of housing as a consolation. Seizing his chance, Lee persuaded his cabinet colleagues to authorize the provision of Reserve Bank credit (ie new money) at minimal interest to finance the housing project. It was the one and only time such a measure was used. NZ’s Finance minister was summoned to London, where it is thought he was told by political and financial leaders to toe the orthodox line in future. Lee, who refused to cooperate, was expelled from the Labour Party – and subsequent Labour Governments have fallen into the accepted borrow-and-hope mould.
But it wasn’t just an isolated incident. Canadians especially liked the Social Credit (as it became known) financial concept, and public pressure forced the government to set up a Royal Commission on Banking and Currency in 1933. Continuing electoral support for the idea obliged the New Zealand Government to follow a similar course in 1955. Both Royal Commissions acknowledged that money creation is, in fact, a function of the private banking system, rather than the sovereign right of the state, as most people naively continue to believe. It has been suggested that Keynesian deficit financing was a direct response to, and an attempt to destroy the momentum of the monetary reformists. If so, it was largely successful. ‘Money is power’ , and these days, the idea has pretty much disappeared from sight or public interest. Present-day US citizens attempting to invade Wall Street, and like-minded souls protesting in cities throughout the world against the immorality and social destructiveness of the activities of the financial sector know what they are angry about – but unfortunately have no rallying philosophy or mechanism to offer as an alternative.
That’s another reason why we need to take another look at Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and his generation of thinkers from the 1920s and 30s. Atatürk must have had almost unlimited opportunity to amass a personal fortune and establish a political or financial dynasty – but he didn’t do it. He divorced his only wife, sired no children (as far as we know), and his surname died with him. I would like to leave you with three quotations from the store of wisdom the man left to us:
- Social status is of no use to the nation – service is the thing. Whoever serves the nation has the highest status.
- Educators, what our republic needs from you is young people who can think, know right from wrong, and have open minds.
- War can only be just or justified if it is fought out of sheer necessity or for reasons of national defence, or pursued by a people awaiting their sovereignty, their very lives depending on it.
Further Reading (if you would like to follow up some of these ideas on economics and alternative financing):