Lapham’s Quarterly Spring 2019: Trade, Pt. 1

[CATEGORIES: Literature, Lapham’s Quarterly, Reading, Book Review]
[Click HERE to see my previous posts referencing Lapham’s Quarterly.]
[Some of LQ’s contents are available free.]
[L.Q. cover, quotes, and images from Lapham’s Quarterly Spring 2019: Night, except where noted otherwise.]
[New to Lapham’s Quarterly? See the standard notes at the end of this review. After 40+ LQ reviews I jump right in.]

This is a READING section, for those who may stumble in looking for photography.  There are pictures at which to look, if you are so inclined.  You might even, shudder, read.  I don’t say this disparagingly.  I spend as much time as anyone staring into the void-abyss, though lately I’ve been looking at photography, that penchant we invented to gratify the desire to capture what we see, freeze it or record a motion clip, either to be kept, archived, shared and shown to others to say, “look at what I saw”.  Venture further if you like.  You’ve been warned.

 Cover detail: Dionysus crossing the sea, black-figure kylix, Execias, c. 530 BC

I read Lapham’s Quarterly and then comment on it, supported by considerable copy-paste quotation.  Review, summary, synopsis, a digest of a digest of extracts of thought on a quarterly subject, from throughout mankind’s recorded history.  You don’t have to look hard to find 11 years of LQ journals which I’ve perused and commented about in my self-aggrandizing way, like the emperor’s new clothes or ‘mirror-mirror on the wall’.  It gives me focus, purpose, and exposure to much greater minds than mine will ever be.  I’m indebted to the friend who introduced me, R.I.P., and the fine minds who assemble the journal.

This quarter the subject is TRADE.  Not economics, though surely it will involve that, and not money, previously the subject of Lapham’s Quarterly Spring 2008: About Money:

Lapham’s Quarterly Spring 2008: About Money, partial review one

Lapham’s Quarterly Spring 2008: About Money, partial review two and last

Lewis Lapham writes the Preamble this month and it’s titled Globalization.  If I get what he’s saying, he posits that in recent centuries globalization has had a dehumanizing effect on the world, that it’s all big business and wealthy corporate self-interest now.

“Fare forward another thirty years to the end of World War II, and it is the voice of the American diplomat George Kennan, circulating in 1948 as a State Department memorandum phrased in the language of the successful businessman: “We have about 50 percent of the world’s wealth, but only 6.3 percent of its population…Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity…To do so, we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and daydreaming,” disregard “unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of the living standards, and democratization.” (P. 13-14)

He refers to Joseph Addison in early 18th century England: “…in 1711 he can still see a global economy run by and for human beings. Moneymaking is not yet the primary objective of the journeys to the East and the sailings to the West. The worth of a thing still matters as much or more as the price of a thing.” (P. 14) (Addison and The Spectator magazine are worth a peek in Wikipedia.)

I disagree with the premise.  (It’s de rigueur, isn’t it, to disagree with intellectuals with whom I likely couldn’t even converse about the weather?)  It seems the exchange of goods has always been about barter for one’s personal needs and desires, but hasn’t it always been run by those with the advantage of position and power, whether it’s merchants and kings of old, or corporations today?  Has it really changed?  Was it ever altruistic?

He supports his premise with references to Aristotle and Adam Smith, then attacks 19th century industrialization with references to Marx and Engels:

”The rapid development of machine-made production accompanied by the equally rapid expansion of the world’s markets and credit allows Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in 1848 to see a perfect storm of creative capitalist destruction blowing at all points of the geo-economic compass with the “single unconscionable freedom—free trade,” a means of exchange that substitutes “callous ‘cash payment’ ” for every other form of human meaning and endeavor, devotes itself to “naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation.” (P. 16)

He notes that his namesake great-grandfather co-founded a steamship company in 1899, having “thirty-two freighters in the intracoastal trade”, “not because of the money in the business but because of the romance”.

Riiight.  This is a bit of a stretch even for Lewis Lapham’s oft liberal perspective.  He also notes said great-grandfather was a founding partner of Texaco Oil Company.  For the romance, no doubt.

(p. 19)

This is a thought-provoking issue introduction, available FREE online at  I recommend it.

I hope to read the preamble-referenced article by Alan S. Blinder in the Winter 2019 Foreign Affairs magazine.  Registration will allow you one free article per month:

The George Kennan piece is available here:

To be continued…

You can get ahead of my reading via LaphamsQuarterly.Org.


The standard notes:
1. Since L.Q.’s inception with the Winter 2008 issue its size is always 7″ x 10″ x 1/2-17/32″. It is white-covered, printed on high quality paper throughout, with richly printed reproductions of fine art from time immemorial, and 221 pages up to a page or two of addenda at the back.
2. Each issue contains extracts about the title topic from great authors and thinkers spanning all recorded history. It begins with an eloquent, to a fault, preamble/introduction by editor Lewis Lapham. The main body is called Voices In Time and contains 3 or 4 subcategories of the topic with about 25 extracts per section. Noteworthy sidebars, side quotes, and depictions of appropriate art from the ages are liberally distributed throughout. Several extended contemporary essays bring up the rear. There are several other small sections every issue (Among the Contributors, Conversations, Miscellany, ‘The Graphic’).
3. Per the L.Q. website:
“Lapham’s Quarterly embodies the belief that history is the root of all education, scientific and literary as well as political and economic. Each issue addresses a topic of current interest and concern—war, religion, money, medicine, nature, crime—by bringing up to the microphone of the present the advice and counsel of the past.”
4. I encourage all to subscribe to this fine publication. It is a rich supplement to anyone’s reading.

7 thoughts on “Lapham’s Quarterly Spring 2019: Trade, Pt. 1

  1. I would note that according to the World Bank, per capita income in Viet Nam was less in 1998 than in 1972 — then it opened itself to trade and the growth was enormous. The same was true in mercantilism practicing Peru and Chile [and stagnant Argentina today demonstrates the folly of looking inward]. The current President may, like Kennan, see it as a zero sum game, but more sophisticated policy makers see globalization and trade expanding the pie — and the statistics prove it. Global poverty as defined by starvation, has declined remarkably in the post WW II era. The unvarnished numbers are horrible, but as a percentage of the global population, it has been steadily declining.


    1. Thank you for your insights. I’m surprised at the number of products I come across these days that were made in Vietnam. We’ve purchased several pieces of furniture from reputable companies that were made there.


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